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Mekong River Cruise with Scenic.

By Heidi Sarna.

My first Mekong River cruise a decade ago was with Pandaw, a pioneer of Southeast Asia river cruising and one of my favorite small-ship cruise lines.

They offer a casual old-world experience aboard traditionally-designed boats built with lots of teak and open decks to resemble classic Scottish-built Irrawaddy River paddle steamers from a century ago.

In recent years, more river boats — many of them quite luxurious — have entered the waters of Southeast Asia. One of the companies is Scenic.

Last October, I cruised the Mekong River from Cambodia into Vietnam with Scenic aboard the all-suite 68-passenger Scenic Spirit — by far my poshest Mekong River experience — complete with an onboard spa and mini swimming pool.

Scenic Spirit's outdoor pool with Mekong views

Hard to believe a 68-passenger river boat has a pool and a spa! Lov’in it! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

My friend Sheila and I thoroughly enjoyed our 10 days of pampering and adventure. Scenic smartly combines its 7-night Mekong cruises with a 3-night hotel/tour pre- or post-cruise package in Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor Wat.

Tuk tuk ride in Cambodia

Heidi & Sheila’s Mekong River cruise adventure!

Thinking about taking a high-end Mekong River cruise?

Here are 15 reasons to choose Scenic!

The Immersive Excursions

The whole point of a Southeast Asia river cruise is to learn something, see something, and feel something. Scenic’s daily excursions, usually one in the morning and another after lunch (often with multiple choices), range from temple and monastery visits to walks through rural villages.

There are strolls through eye-opening, nostril-shocking open-air markets selling fresh everything; jaunts on motorized wooden sampans to soak up life on the river; and adventurous rides in tuk-tuk cycle rickshaws.

wet market in Cambodia

Wet markets in Cambodia and Vietnam are an experience! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Angkor Wat Temple Complex 

One of the world’s most coveted travel sites, parts of the world-famous temple complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia, date back more than 1,000 years. With its intricate carvings, jungle setting and hauntingly beautiful ruinous visage, the temples of Angkor Wat inspire awe, wonder and gratitude for anyone fortunate enough to visit. Three days in Siem Reap, based in a luxury hotel, is part of the package.

Ankgor Wat is included in many Mekong River Cruises

The stunning Angkor Wat complex. * Photo: Sheila Healey

The Pagodas

A Mekong River cruise in Cambodia and Vietnam is a journey rich in gilded Buddhist sanctuaries, alternatively called temples, shrines and pagodas. Some are grand and topped with massive roofs and ornate glittering interiors covered with intricate murals. Others are humbler, with aging wood, faded paint and crumbling stupas; they’re part of the everyday village tableau, complete with sleeping dogs and playing children.

A gilded pagoda on a Mekong River Cruise

A grand gilded monastery in Cambodia near the Mekong River. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Sampan Rides

Most days, excursions involved transferring from the Scenic Spirit, whether anchored mid-river or tied up to a tree along the river banks, to a local motorized sampan. Some were wooden, and all had the requisite evil eye painted on the bow to ward off danger. Zipping up and down the river in these boats afforded us close up views of the river banks, to see women washing clothes at the water’s edge and children splashing and waving. We saw lone figures in conical hats fishing from small skiffs and families living aboard squat cargo barges, laundry flapping across the stern, motoring past with loads of sand, gravel, rice and watermelons.

sampan excursions on a Mekong River cruise

Most excursions involved traveling by sampan, which allowed us up close views of life and commerce on the river. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Sunsets

It seemed we were treated to soul-stirring sunsets nearly every day of the cruise, and some morning sunrises were equally as jaw-dropping. With our suite’s huge windows that could be opened with the touch of a button, we could take amazing photos and videos with very little effort! Or if we felt more ambitious, Scenic Spirit’s expansive top deck was an excellent perch to soak up a fiery sunset melting into the Mekong.

Great views of a sunset over the Mekong River.

The all-suite Scenic Spirit affords stunning views of sunrises and sunsets over the Mekong. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

AND, our days at Angkor Wat included a sunrise visit, which turned out to be a mind-blowing pinky-purply stunner. We stood in awe watching the morphing color, thanking our lucky stars for the opportunity to witness such a spectacular natural wonder.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise on a Mekong River cruise

Angkor Wat at sunrise blew us away! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The All-Inclusive Fares

An impressive repertoire of excursions, from walking, speedboat and motor-coach tours, to Scenic’s special “Enrich” happenings — experiential events such as high-tea at Raffles in Phnom Penh — are part of the fare. Also priced into the package are free-flow drinks, with an excellent complimentary wine list with multiple choices each day. Room service, transfers to and from airport, wifi (though spotty), and gratuities (however many leave additional tips) are also part of the fares.

Scenic River cruises are all inclusive

Fares on a Scenic Mekong River cruise include all wines and spirits. Cheers! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Suites

Southeast is Asia hot year-round, not to mention quite culture-shocky, so your cabin is an important retreat for relaxing and recharging. The Scenic Spirit’s 34 outside suites impress with floor-to-ceiling windows that open top to bottom with the touch of a button, for fresh air and photo taking. Most are 344-square-foot Deluxe Suites with walk-in wardrobes, mini-bars, sitting area, and flat-screen TVs for movies and music.

Scenic Spirit Deluxe Suite

Our Scenic Spirit Deluxe Suite was just lovely. * Photo: Scenic

The Spa

The Scenic Spirit’s lovely little spa, a dark-wood paneled retreat, was my happy place. Each excellent treatment begins with a ceremonial foot bath in a copper bowl. Making a great thing even better is the price — an hour-long massage is just $30 USD. I had two of them with the sweet and skilled therapist Rotana! There’s also a gym with three cardio machines, a sauna and steam room, and even a decent-sized outdoor pool up on deck.

Scenic Spirit spa

The Scenic Spirit spa can accommodate two guests at a time. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Guides

The group of excellent local Scenic guides that accompany passengers for the entire 10-day cruise-tour are the glue that keeps the itinerary running smoothly. They lead all excursions and share not only facts about the region’s rich culture and heritage, but fascinating personal anecdotes as well about about marriage, education and tragic stories of family members who perished during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Scenic Spirit guide tying a monk robe

The Scenic Spirit team of guides was excellent — explaining, enlightening and demonstrating monk robe tying!. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Service

Attentive, approachable, friendly and exceedingly professional, the service level is high-end on board, in Siem Reap and during excursions. From the multiple excellent local guides who travel with the cohort to the restaurant servers, massage therapists and front desk staff, it really is “your wish is my command.”

Excellent services in the restaurants of our Mekong River cruise

Courteous, efficient and friendly service was the order of the day! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Dining

As most passengers want to try the local fare, at least at some meals, and the Scenic Spirit did a great job offering both Asian and western dishes in its lovely windowed restaurant. Lunch was my favorite meal of the day — highlights included Cambodian and Vietnamese “street food” buffets. Festive stations offered prawn sugarcane skewers, Khmer crepes, dim sum, Vietnamese pho noodle soup, fried insects, and exotic fruits like hairy red rambutans. At all meals, there were always western favorites as well.

Lunch aboard a Mekong River Cruise

My favorite meal of the day was lunch — the buffets were awesome! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Entertainment

The entertainment in Siem Reap was excellent, from the dazzling Phare Cambodian Circus, a campy and skillful acrobatic extravaganza, to the magical dinner and Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple. Onboard the Scenic Spirit, entertainment revolved around after-dinner drinks with new friends, plus a few featured events — a colorful and clanging dragon dance by a local troupe, a lively trivia contest and a dance party on deck under the stars with the crew.

An Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple.

We enjoyed a magical dinner and Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Other Passengers

A big part of the fun is cruising with an intimate group of like-minded others, folks who are as inspired and eager to travel in Southeast Asia as you are. The majority of Scenic river cruise passengers are Australian, with a sprinkling of other nationalities, including North Americans, New Zealanders, Britishers, Europeans, and others. Mingling was easy and we enjoyed hanging out with new friends.

The well traveled passengers on a Scenic Spirit excursion

Fun loving and adventurous passengers on an excursion. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Convenience

Southeast Asia is an amazing travel destination, but it can be challenging at times for even the heartiest adventurer, thanks to the heat (it’s hot year-round, sticking to the 80s and 90s F) and crazy traffic. A luxurious river cruise mitigates much of the hassle and lets you focus on the cultural treasures. Unpack once; largely avoid road travel; enjoy plush air-conditioned suites, spa and dining; and soak up the fascinating life on the river and along its banks. 

The scenic spirit docked along the Mekong RIver

The plush 68-passenger Scenic Spirit is a wonderful home base for a week on the Mekong River! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Family Vibe

I’ve noticed that family-run companies like Scenic seem to thrive on the pride and passion that come from building and owning a business. Scenic was started by Australian Glen Moroney in 1986 and has grown into the thriving high-quality luxury cruise and travel company it is today.

Scenic name in candles at an Apsara performance

Family-owned Scenic seems to take great pride in delivering a high-quality travel experience. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Fares start at $4,395 USD per person for the 10-night Luxury Mekong and Temple Discovery Cruise package (7-night Scenic Spirit cruise + 3-night Siem Reap hotel stay). Fares include drinks, meals, excursions and a handful of special enrichment experiences. Visit the Scenic site for booking info.

 

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About AmaWaterways

Founded in 2002 as Amadeus Waterways, the company changed its name in 2008 to AmaWaterways. It is generally regarded as one of the world’s top river cruise lines and operates a large fleet of beautifully designed ships in Europe and others in Asia and Africa. Most river cruise itineraries should be paired with a land package including at least one hotel stay. As the riverboats are similar, they will be described as a class and grouped under the destination they frequentThe line offers the utmost flexibility with guided tours at three different paces (gentle, regular & active), a late risers tour, guided bike and hiking tours as well as optional Limited Edition Tours.

For Spanish-speaking passengers, a guide accompanies designated departures. See With a Latin Touch.

EUROPEAN RIVERS

Ships & Years Delivered

Europe – AmaBella (built 2010 & 161 passengers), AmaCello (b. 2008 & 148 p), AmaCerto (b. 2012 & 164 p), AmaDante (b. 2008 & 146 p), AmaDolce (b. 2009 & 146 p), AmaLyra (b. 2009 & 146 p), AmaPrima (b.2013 & 164 p), AmaReina (b. 2014 & 164 p), AmaSerena (b. 2015 & 164 p), AmaSonata (b. 2015 & 164 p), AmaStella (b 2016. & 158 p), AmaVerde (b. 2011 & 174p), AmaViola (b. 2016 & 158 p), AmaKristina (b. 2017 & 158 p), and AmaVida (b. 2013 & 106 p), AmaLea (b. 2018 & 156 p), *AmaMagna (b. 2018 & 194 p), AmaMora (b. 2019 & 196 p) , AmaDouro (b. 2019 & 102 p) and AmaSiena (b. 2020 & 158 p).

*AmaMagna deserves special note as the boat is twice as wide as standard riverboats and this allows for much larger cabins, expanded restaurant offerings (4), larger spa and wellness facilities and water-sports platform. The thrust here is to attract more deep-sea cruisers who might feel that riverboats are too small and limited in their amenities. The vessel sticks to the Danube where it does not face locks that would be to narrow to enter. Some cruises sail as far downriver as Giurgiu for access to Bulgaria’s capital of Bucharest.

RELATED: Read Gene Sloan’s AmaMagna review here.

Passengers

146 to 196 (except smaller Douro River ships AmaVida (106 p) and AmaDouro  (102 p).

Passenger Decks

4 with most ships having elevators between the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$$

NOTE:

Solo passengers may have the single supplement waived on selected sailings. On others, special discounts are applied after the supplement is added.

Included Features

Free Wi-Fi in the cabins, unlimited wines, beers, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, bottled water, Chef’s Table specialty restaurant, shore excursion in every port, bicycles (Europe), transfers between hotel and ship when buying a land package, airport transfers if buying AmaWaterways’ airfare. These extras upfront keep the final bill in check.

Cruising the Douro River in Portugal is a new offering. * Photo: AamaWaterways

Cruising the Douro River in Portugal is a new offering. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Itineraries (through 2020)

European river cruises operate from March to December. Popular itineraries are:

  • Prague hotel stay then sail between Nuremburg along the Danube and Main-Danube Canal and taking in a Benedictine Abbey, wines of the Wachau Valley, Vienna and Budapest. Lots of itinerary variations.
  • The Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel stopping at cathedral cities and picturesque castles and towns. Continue by train to Zurich.
  • Paris and the Seine to Monet’s home and gardens at Giverny, cathedral city of Rouen and WWII Normandy beaches.
  • Paris and TGV (high-speed train) to Lyon (gastronomic capital) then cruise the Rhone south to medieval and Roman antiquities, Avignon and Arles, and ending with a hotel stay in Lyon (settled across two rivers with a peninsula in between.) or Marseille (multi-ethnic city has risen in popularity) or Barcelona (for some, the favorite city).
  • Something newer and different along Portugal’s Douro River from Oporto with visits to castles, palaces and museums, and a stay in Lisbon.
  • Bordeaux along the Dordogne and Garonne to Pauillac (Medoc) and St. Emilion for vineyard visits, plus castles, biking and hiking. Add stays in Bilbao and/or San Sebastian and linger with lots to see in Bordeaux.
  • New for 2020 are 7-night Rhine and Moselle cruises concentrating on Vineyards and sailing between Amsterdam and Luxembourg, and 7-night Main and Rhine cruises linking Amsterdam and Nuremberg via the Main-Danube Canal.
  • Note: Not currently operating: Russian itineraries between St. Petersburg and Moscow, and Moscow via the Volga River to Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).
Claude Monet's gardens at Giverny. * Photo: Ted Scull

Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny. * Photo: Ted Scull

Many river itineraries are seven nights with extended ones first cruising the Danube and then connecting to the Main and Rhine. Cruise-tours include hotel stays in Amsterdam, Paris, Marseille, Barcelona, Lucerne, Zurich, Munich, Prague, Budapest or Istanbul.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. * Photo: Ted Scull

European themed cruises include a highlighted focus such as art, wine (expanding considerably), culinary, wellness, tulip time, and Christmas markets. Adventure by Disney departures appeal to families.

Why Go?

River cruising is arguably the easiest and most relaxing way to see a lot of Europe with a choice of a dozen different rivers to access cities, small towns, historic sites, wine regions and enchanting scenery. AmaWaterways gives you a vast choice and provides some of the best accommodations aboard in Europe. As the riverboats in this fleet are somewhat similar, with a couple of exceptions, they will be described as a class.

When to Go?

Some itineraries are specifically geared to the best seasons or offer a special theme appropriate to the season, such as tulip time, vineyard visits, and Christmas markets.

German rivers such as the Moselle and Rhine provide spectacular secenery. * Photo: Ted Scull

German rivers such as the Moselle and Rhine provide spectacular scenery. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

160 to 350 square feet (170-235 the average range) with most having full balconies and/or French step-to-the railing balconies with fixed windows on the lowest deck. Amenities are desk and sitting area, multi-jet showerhead, complimentary Internet access and Wi-Fi, TV, music and movies on demand, bottled water, safe and some cabins with mini-fridge.

Public Rooms

Main lounge and bar (all drinks and snacks included throughout the day) with a forward viewing/seating area; Sun Deck seating open and under a canopy, walking track, small pool or whirlpool; massage and hair salon, fitness room.

Dining

The line includes higher grade wines, plus beer and sodas with lunch and dinner, and sparkling wine at breakfast. The European ships belong to the culinary organization La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Breakfast and lunch may be taken in the main restaurant from a menu or buffet, and lighter choices are available in the main lounge. Dinner is open seating with menus reflecting the cruising area. Some ships have a second specialty restaurant, the Chef’s Table, with limited seating and reservations, but at no extra cost.

Activities & Entertainment

Musicians come aboard nightly in ports; take advantage of a dip in the pool or whirlpool, fitness room and massage services. Tours ashore are on foot and in vehicles, with headsets for the guide’s commentary. Some tours allow you to chose your own pace. Bicycles are available and particularily useful for independent touring along a path between Durnstein and Melk in the Danube’s beautiful Wachau Valley; along the Rhine in/near Cologne; paralleling the canals and waterways in Belgium and the Netherlands, to highlight just a few locations. Inquire about the options when boarding. Small group tours by bicycle and longer hikes are also offered.

Special Notes

While AmaWaterways’ European riverboats share many of the same amenities, the Asian and African vessels are considerably different, but no less comfortable. See below for details. Single fares without a supplement are available for all cruises, though dependent on the category available,

Along the Same Lines

Other European operators.

MEKONG RIVER IN CAMBODIA & VIETNAM

AmaWaterways operates two somewhat similar high-standard ships that are smaller than the European riverboats, yet offer most of the same amenities. The Mekong (Cambodia and Vietnam) and Irrawaddy (Myanmar) are ideal for river travel as so much activity is river-focused. Note:  Irrawaddy Cruises are not currently operating.

RELATED: Anne Kalosh’s AmaWaterways’ Mekong River adventure.

Ships & Years Delivered

AmaDara (built 2015 & 124 passengers).

Passengers

Mainly North Americans 50 and up.

Passenger Decks

4 decks, no elevator.

Price

$$$

Included Features

During a 7-night cruise, all excursions, wine, local beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner; all house-brand spirits, local beer, soft drinks from the bar; bottled water; all transfers with an air package. Cruise tours include hotel stays in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) with buffet breakfasts, transfers between hotels and ship and Hanoi to Siem Reap flight.

Itineraries

The 7-night cruise portion operates August to April in both directions on Tonle Sap Lake (except during low-water season) and along the Mekong between Siem Reap (Cambodia) and My Tho (near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). Calls are made to small river villages to observe daily life, local crafts production, floating markets, a Buddhist Monastery, Cambodia capital at Phnom Penh, and the ever-fascinating river traffic.

Hotel stays include sightseeing. Nearly everyone who books a river cruise adds at least a couple of nights at Siem Reap for the Angkor Archaeological Park and its temples, terraces and stone sculptures.

Why Go?

Southeast Asia is a culturally and historically rich part of the world, and Mekong River cruises has opened up easy access to life in the big cities, small towns and archaeological sites that previously involved long bus rides on congested roads. The Mekong is full of commercial activity linked industrial and farm production and to the inhabitants who live along the river banks.

Most add the Siem Reap extension for archaeological sites, Vietnam’s two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and maybe the Laotian cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the latter the country’s capital. All flights within Southeast Asia are short and well-operated.

Flower market in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). * Photo: Ted Scull

Flower market in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

Cruises operate between August and April; the rains are heavier in the summer months matched with slightly lower fares.

Cabins

The majority of the wood-trimmed cabins are a roomy 226 square feet, and all have French or outside balconies, apart from six with portholes on AmaLotus lowest deck. Beds are twins or queen-size. Top deck suites are larger, and two on each ship are huge (452 sq. ft. on AmaDara and 624 sq. ft. on AmaLotus). Cabins open to a traditional central corridor. Amenities are: sitting area with writing desk, mini-bar, safe, in-house phone, flat-screen monitor and hairdryer. Suites have bathtubs.

Public Rooms

AmaDara has main lounge forward while AmaLotus has it aft with a small forward-facing lounge. Both vessels have covered top decks with seating and a small pool with AmaDara’s forward and AmaLotus’ aft. Both vessels have a fitness room, hair salon and spa.

Dining

Both have open-seating restaurants (AmaDara forward and AmaLotus aft) with North American menu choices as well as flavorful local Southeast Asian cooking. AmaDara has a small specialty eatery aft called the Tarantula Grill — and as a personal injection and recommendation, I have eaten grilled tarantula legs, but I did not and would not touch the body.

Activities & Entertainment

Cultural entertainment aboard features musical groups in costume, plus films, and a small pool, an ideal way to relax after a hot day ashore. Excursions are on foot, by boat, trishaw, oxcart and in buses to villages, palaces, museums, temples, schools, markets and workshops making handcrafts in silk, wood, rattan and paper.

IRRAWADDY RIVER IN MYANMAR (BURMA)

(Note: Not currently operating)

AmaWaterways operates one vessel, the high-standard 56-passenger AmaPura built in 2014, on 14-night cruise tours that feature hotel stays in Yangon (Rangoon) and a 10-night cruise on the Irrawaddy (also Ayeyarwady) on roughly monthly sailings, except from mid-April to mid-September. The cruise is accessed at Pyay, north of Yangon or Mandalay, with a flight to or from Yangon.

The sights are villages, craft-making, monasteries, scenic vistas, and temples, with the highlight spending a full day amongst the huge collection of stupas, pagodas and temples at Pagan and a full day touring Mandalay.

Accommodations aboard are designated all-suites measuring from 285 sq. ft. to 420 sq. ft. with either two balconies or one sitting balcony and one French balcony. Although a smaller vessel, the amenities, public spaces, dining, what’s included, the entertainment and activities are similar to the two Mekong River vessels.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: ZAMBEZI RIVER IN BOTSWANA

In Brief

Between mid-March and mid-November, AmaWaterways offers a cruise-tour that includes four nights aboard the 28-passenger ZAMBEZI QUEEN, built in the early 1990s and refitted for its current role in 2009. Accommodations are 10 large cabins and four suites, all with private balconies, a light-filled lounge and bar, dining room and pool. Every enclosed space has floor to ceiling windows with open decks fore and aft to watch for game.

The cruise follows the Chobe River embarking at Kasane, Botswana with additional close-up sightseeing in smaller boats to look for wildlife on land, in the river and flying above, plus trips ashore to visit African villages. The land portions that bracket the cruise can include hotel stays in Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Victoria Falls. Add a 3-night journey aboard the luxurious, vintage Rovos Rail between the falls and Pretoria, South Africa.

Giraffes in Nambia

Giraffes in Nambia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Contact Info

26010 Mureau Road, Calabasas, CA 91302; www.AmaWaterways.com; 800-626-0126.

— TWS

 

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Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

By Anne Kalosh.

I woke to a rooster crowing at 4:30 a.m. AmaDara was nudged against a bank of the Mekong River, tied to trees. Beneath my balcony, a man was up to his neck in the brown water, bathing his ox. As daylight broke, houses in the forest became visible.

While we ate breakfast on board, families ashore were doing the same, squatting beside their houses that stood on tall stilts. When we strolled through the village in small groups, we met a grandmother chewing betel nuts as she minded a baby, kids jumping rope who called “Helloooo!” and a sprightly 90-year-old man who invited some of us in to his house, climbing the steep staircase with ease.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Children jump rope alongside AmaDara. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Authentic Experiences

These kinds of intimate, authentic experiences marked my weeklong cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia with AmaWaterways. Fascinating cultures, incredible and sometimes tragic history, beautiful sights, wonderful food and unforgettable people made this Mekong River voyage one of my greatest adventures ever.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

A floating village on the Mekong. Photo: AmaWaterways

We roamed markets where we were the only Westerners, got blessed at a Buddhist ceremony in a fabulous temple and rode sampans, trishaws, tuk-tuks and even oxcarts. At a one-room school in Cambodia, we helped barefoot children practice speaking English and brought their teacher pencils and notebooks.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Oxcart Anne! (in blue hat) * Photo: Anne Kalosh

In Phnom Penh’s nightmarish Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, once a prison and torture center run by the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge, we met one of the few survivors. In Siem Reap, we joined hundreds of other pilgrims trekking through the dark to view sunrise at Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most magnificent temples.

The Mekong is home to many ancient cultures and a lifeline for trade, fishing and agriculture. But cruising is relatively new to the river, so we felt like we were experiencing something very special.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Ox cart driver in Kampong Tralach. Photo: Anne Kalosh

Beauty of a Boat

AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaDara, built in Vietnam in 2015, is a beauty of glossy teak, French colonial styling and carved wood furniture.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

AmaDara has been plying the Mekong since 2015. * Photo: AmaWaterways

I loved my room’s dark woods, spaciousness and tall windows. It was elegant and comfortable, the big bed facing a walk-out balcony and the seating area beside a French step-out balcony.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Benli, one of the wonderful AmaDara crew, showed me to my room. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The Saigon Lounge with its bar and floor-to-ceiling windows served as a central meeting point for daily briefings, lectures and entertainment. Local performers came aboard several nights to dance and sing. Other evenings we sang karaoke, competed in a rollicking group trivia game about the Mekong and were treated to a fabulous and fun crew talent show.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

The Saigon Lounge hosts briefings, lectures and entartainment. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Local Dishes

The food aboard AmaDara was extraordinary. With Vietnamese and Cambodian chefs preparing the dishes, we enjoyed authentic meals, with some U.S. and international options always available.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Vietnamese and Cambodian chefs prepare authentic meals in AmaDara’s Mekong Restaurant. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Breakfast included fresh fruits like mango, rambutan, dragon fruit, sapodilla, jack fruit and melon; juices, smoothies, made-to-order omelets, stir fries and pho (a Vietnamese broth with noodles, vegetables, lemongrass and chili); cereals, porridge, nuts, yogurt and pastries. There was always a bottle of Champagne for those who wished to start the day with a mimosa or, instead, addictively sweet and strong iced Vietnamese coffee.

Lunch included a salad bar, cold cuts, cheeses, seafood, fish, pasta, action-station items like steamed rice paper rolls with pork and vegetables and main courses like sweet and sour fish, potato dumplings with pumpkin sauce, pizza and burgers (meat or veggie).

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Fresh tropical fruits are in abundance aboard AmaDara. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Dinner choices included Khmer salmon and grilled watermelon, prawn with mango, cauliflower soup with chive oil, Oriental beef consommé, Vietnamese egg drop soup with bean curd and mushrooms, sirloin steak with green pepper corn sauce, roasted turkey with taro and yam, cobia fillet with tamarind sauce and coconut rice, sesame seed tofu and tempura bok choy.

I thought the food was terrific, and it satisfied palates ranging from sophisticated New York foodies to a vegan couple who told me they found plenty of variety. Beer and wine were included at meals.

Friendly Crew, Great Guides

AmaDara is a beauty, but the best thing about the vessel was the friendly Vietnamese and Cambodian crew and the wonderful Ama guides. Tour leader Son met my late-arriving flight to Ho Chi Minh City (which most everyone still calls Saigon). On our way to the plush Sofitel Saigon Plaza, where other Ama travelers spent two nights pre-cruise, I learned Son had been a refugee abroad for several years, and a university professor. He’s the kind of knowledgeable, witty and charming leader you’d follow anywhere. And we did.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Tour leader Son, Anne Kalosh and guide Fin at Angkor Wat. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho
A City Market Adventure

The lotus embryo tea in my hotel room was a preview of the kind of drinks and foods that seemed very exotic to this American. My first city market visit was an eye-opener. There were nets of live toads, baskets of live prawns and kettles of live fish, framed collections of bats and spiders, Vietnamese coffee with brand names like Weasel and Squirrel, wood carvings (one of the Titanic) and enormous bags of cashews. A woman sat skinning an eel.

And the pointers from our Ama guides about bargaining definitely came in handy. Counter the price with 30 percent, then buy at 40 percent, they said. No eels or spiders for me. I took home fresh-ground coffee and silk scarves.

After the market our small convoy of buses drove along the wide avenues of Ho Chi Minh City, buzzing with action and lined with cafés and stands selling all kinds of things. In the countryside we passed emerald-green rice paddies and giant lotus flowers. People along the road wheeled carts piled high with coconuts, watermelons and dragon fruit.

“We like to live on the highway because of the opportunity to do business,” our guide Duy said. Two hours later, we arrived at My Tho, where AmaDara was docked.

Captain Dang Tuc stood at the gangway, impressive with his seafarer’s beard. On board, we learned that “Ama” means “love” and “dara” means “star.” We were just 87 passengers—from the U.S., Canada, Germany, the U.K., Philippines and Australia—on this early-season sailing. (Riverboats run on the Mekong from August to April.)

I was surprised by the number of families, including those with young children and teens, as well as solo travelers like me.

Our first day’s sail, to Cai Be, was short. We anchored midstream overnight. After dinner, Vietnamese musicians played traditional instruments.

Capt. Tuc and a crew member greet embarking passengers at My Tho. Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 2: Cai Be and Sa Dec
Floating market, Temple and Romance

Cai Be is an important agricultural distribution center, especially for fruits. To visit the floating market, we rode in long, covered sampans past colorful boats with eyes painted on the bows (a tradition said to ward off sea monsters). Many of these were live-aboards, and families strung their laundry on lines, kids played on deck and food was cooked in the open air. Many of the larger boats transport live fish in an underwater well or tank with screens to allow river water to flow through.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Touring the Mekong by sampan. Photo: Anne Kalosh

I saw coconut candy, popped rice snacks and edible rice paper being made in a shop that also sold cobra and scorpion wine, these creatures visible in the glass bottles. Other products included “Fat of Pythons” ointment for burns and dry skin and “Cobratoxan” cream for muscle pain.

“We eat anything that moves,” guide Duk said, adding snake is considered particularly nutritious. “We don’t eat python,” he clarified. “It’s too fatty and tasteless. We do eat cobra. We eat rats in the rice field. We eat mice. We eat crickets. Roasted crickets in garlic and chili are tasty.”

Walking along a forest trail we arrived at Kiet House, a pre-colonial home of elaborately carved wood, filled with antiques, ceramics and an altar to the ancestors.

In the afternoon, at Sa Dec, an agricultural and industrial trading center, we visited a colorful temple to Caodaism, a syncretistic religion whose symbol is the Divine Eye of God. Strolling through a market, we saw pigs’ heads split open in puddles of blood, eels and snakes, live crabs and heaps of fresh vegetables, greens and herbs.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Butcher stall in Sa Dec market, Vietnam. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The French writer Marguerite Duras lived in Sa Dec as a teenager where she had an affair with a wealthy 27-year-old Chinese man. Her novel “The Lover” was made into an exceedingly atmospheric film. We had tea at the wealthy man’s house, now a museum.

Day 3: Tan Chau
Rural Life and Riding in a Trishaw. Whee!

The sampans took us to Tan Chau, famous for its black-dyed silk. We visited a silk factory and at a rattan factory, we scooped up items decorated with hand-dyed silk threads. We learned about rural life on a stroll through Evergreen Island, our guides engaging people to tell about their homes and families. Back in Tan Chau, we rode cycle trishaws, my adept driver chatting on his phone as he pedaled away. I loved the ride!

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Strolling around Emerald Island. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 4: Phnom Penh
Tragedy & Beauty

Arriving at Cambodia’s bustling capital, AmaDara docked right downtown, in the heart of the action. The most tragic period of Cambodian history, the 1975 to 1979 reign of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime, was a sobering start to our visit. Well more than a million people, perhaps nearly three million, were executed or died from starvation or disease. No family was spared. When our guide Fin was a baby, his father vanished and was never heard from again.

Seeing one of the Killing Fields—sites where large numbers of people were executed—was indescribably sad and horrifying. Back on the bus, we fell silent. The shock and revulsion continued back in the city at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, known as Security Prison 21, or S-21.

There we met Chum Mey, one of its few survivors, who wrote a book about his life and ordeal. “How do you have the strength to come here every day?” I asked.

Chum said he’s compelled to bear witness to what happened. His book sales help support victims of the Khmer Rouge.

On the bus, Fin summed it up: “That was heavy. Not an enjoyable morning, but an important one.”

The afternoon was quite different: A walk through the grounds of the Royal Palace, home to Cambodia’s king. In the Silver Pagoda thick silver tiles covered the floor and a Buddha of solid gold was encrusted with thousands of diamonds. For me, a high point was the National Museum with its incredible collection of Khmer art. The Khmer empire was a powerful state that once covered most of modern-day Cambodia, southern Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. Great builders, artists and musicians, the Khmer created monumental temples like Angkor Wat, and the museum houses many sculptures, statues and other artifacts from there.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Phnom Penh’s gilded Royal Palace complex. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Day 5 Phnom Penh, Oudong and Kampong Tralach
Buddhist Blessing & Oxcart Parade

We journeyed by bus to Oudong, Cambodia’s royal capital from the 17th century until 1866, and a place of pilgrimage. AmaWaterways had arranged a special Buddhist blessing for our group at one of the country’s largest monasteries. We sat on the floor, gazing up at the incredible neon lights, statues and paintings while monks performed the blessing.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

A special Buddhist blessing for Ama passengers at Oudong. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Nearby, at Kampong Tralach, dozens of oxcarts awaited, each driven by a farmer. We climbed in, two apiece. Our slow-moving parade was a spectacle followed by skipping children and women waving from doorways.

Back in Phnom Penh, we tried another typical conveyance, tuk-tuks (motorcyle-driven carts). It was fun surging en masse with all the other tuk-tuks, occasionally seeing familiar faces from AmaDara.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Buddha at Oudong Monastery, Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 6: Oknhatey
Chatting with Schoolchildren

Sailing from Phnom Penh at 7 a.m., we arrived at Koh Dach, known as Silk Island, and rode tuk-tuks through the countryside of rice paddies and orchards to see silk artisans at work and buy beautiful hand-loomed scarves.

The trip’s most heartwarming experience was visiting a school, where we paired off with the children so they could practice speaking English. I can’t forget the little boy who told me he wants to be an author.

That night AmaDara pulled alongside Angkor Ban.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

School visit on Oknatey Island, Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 7: Angkor Ban & Kampong Cham
Village Visit

This was the morning I woke to the rooster’s crow. In small groups, we strolled through the village with our Ama guides. Huge oxen, “like money in the bank” for Cambodian families, according to Fin, lazed in the shade. Some walls had drawings intended to ward off evil spirits.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Oxen are highly valued and considered money in the bank in Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

AmaDara cast off for Kampong Cham, our final port. We docked beside an outdoor cafe with umbrella tables.  The third largest city in Cambodia, Kampong Cham appeared prosperous and busy.

Traveling by bus to Wat Nokor, we discovered an interesting temple dating from the mid-11th century. Roadside stands served duck eggs with 20-day-old embryos. Fin explained this is “Something one person eats that makes two persons happy. Get it?” I didn’t, until he winked.  We saw the Twin Mountains (Man Hill and Woman Hill), the topic of a legend in which the women outwitted the men in a mountain-building contest.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

This Cambodian man invited us into his home. At right is AmaWaterways guide Fin. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 8: Kampong Cham to Siem Reap
Goodbye, AmaDara. Hello, Angkor!

Capt. Tuc and all the crew lined up on shore to wish us farewell. It was sad to say goodbye to so many kind and charming people who’d cared for us with such wonderful hospitality.

We were handed box lunches for the four-hour drive to Siem Reap. Cornfields were juxtaposed with rubber trees, and motorcycles buzzed by with four or even five riders. As we arrived at Siem Reap, Fin’s home, he pointed out where, as a boy, he herded the family’s cows, walking carefully to avoid trip wires set by the Khmer Rouge. It was a chilling reminder of Cambodia’s not-so-distant holocaust.

Once a sleepy town, Siem Reap is now the bustling gateway to Angkor Wat, with an international airport and many fine hotels as well affordable and cheaper digs for budget travelers. Ours was the lavish Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort.

On an afternoon tour to Ta Prohm Temple, where giant trees grow from the walls, parrots and macaque monkeys broke the eerie silence. Angelina Jolie filmed “Tomb Raider” there.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Trees grow from the walls at eerie Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor, Cambodia, which featured in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 9: Siem Reap
Sunrise at World’s Largest Temple Complex

Most AmaWaterways travelers spent two nights in Siem Reap. I had a noon flight so I opted for a sunrise visit to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex. No rooster crowed at the posh Sofitel, but croissants awaited the 4 a.m. early risers in the Ama group. We joined the flow of pilgrims, walking with flashlights, over the causeway atop a wide moat. A light mist made things even more atmospheric.

There was no brilliant sunburst but the gradual unveiling of this incredible sight at daybreak was still profound. Besides its monumental scale and alluring shapes, Angkor Wat is fascinating for its dynamic bas-reliefs of scenes from Hindu epics and hundreds of dancers, each pair said to have different headdresses.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Angkor Wat is rich with thousands of well-preserved carvings. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

It was a climatic finish to a fascinating trip, from the vigor of Vietnam to the calm (decades after the Khmer Rouge storm!) of Cambodia. I learned and experienced a lot, and much of that was thanks to our excellent Ama guides.

When we’d first arrived in Cambodia, Fin taught us the sampeah, the traditional way of saying hello, goodbye, sorry and thank you by pressing the palms together and slightly bowing the head. The level of the hands is important, signifying different relationships. For example, friends of the same age place both palms together at chest level. When greeting bosses, older people or high-ranking people, the hands are raised to mouth level. Saying goodbye to Fin, I put my palms at nose level, appropriate for saluting a teacher.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

If you’re lucky, this is Angkor Wat at sunrise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

For booking info, contact AmaWaterways.

And here’s Anne’s interview with AmaWaterways Co-Owner Kristin Karst.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

Cruising for over a quarter century, this chic French line is a Francophile’s dream. Ponant’s crew is discreet, the décor is subtle and the food is tantalizing. French desserts, French cheeses and French wines accompany passengers on cruises around the world, from French Polynesia and the Caribbean to the North and South Poles, and lots in between.

Passengers are a well-traveled, well-dressed international lot and the handsome captains stroll around the ship in short sleeves chatting to guests as if they are one of the passengers. Ponant is a bit of Europe no matter where the ships are sailing.

In late 2014, the company’s name was simplified from the French Compagnie du Ponant, to just Ponant, a simpler name for the company’s growing international audience, though Ponant still remains the only French-flagged, French-flavored cruise line out there. Ponant is in the midst of building frenzy, with six 184-passenger expedition vessels in the pipeline between now and 2021. As they are delivered, itineraries will be expanded to offer more frequent sailings and brand-new destinations.

A hybrid electric icebreaker is to appear in 2021 and be able to make it to Geographic 90 Degrees North — The North Pole.

Note: Some sailings are directly operated by Ponant and others are under charter to well-known firms for individual sales as well as for special interest groups.

N.B. In August 2019, Ponant announced that the French-owned line has bought Paul Gauguin Cruises, operating the ship PAUL GAUGUIN in French Polynesia and that the ship will continue to operate under its current name.

Ponant's fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ponant’s fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LE BOREAL (built 2010, 132 passengers), L’AUSTRAL (b. 2011, 132 p), LE SOLEAL (b. 2013, 132 p), LE LYRIAL (b. 2014, 122 p), LE PONANT (b. 1991, 64 p), LE LAPEROUSE (b. 2018, 184 p), LE CHAMPLAIN (b. 2018, 184 p),  LE  BOUGAINVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p) and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p), LE BELLOT (due April 2020, 184p), LE JACQUES CARTIER (due July 2020, 184p), and LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT (due April 2021, 270 p), specifically designed for polar explorations.

Ponant's mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant’s mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Profile

Mostly Europeans, heavy on French, Swiss and Germans, with a sprinkling of Francophiles from everywhere else — North America, Brazil, you name it. Children are welcome, but are expected to be well behaved; there is a children’s menu, Wii gaming console, and when there are a number of kids on board, a few activities are organized by a staff member.

On a handful of special family-friendly sailings per year (often a Med itinerary in the summer), a Kids Club is offered with kids’ counselors supervising games and activities for ages 4+. Several firms charter Ponant ships, so they will determine the languages, and a number of them are in the English-speaking markets.

Passenger Decks

6 with elevators to all decks (4 on LE PONANT, the motor sailing yatch, and no elevator)

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Open bar throughout ship, stocked cabin mini-bar, and all soft drinks. New for 2019 is free WiFi in all cabin categories on all ships.

PONANT                                                                                 LE BOUGAINVILLE delivered in 2019 as the third ship in the explorer class. * Photo: Ponant

Itineraries

The ships, with such an expanding fleet, roam all over the world on one- to two-week cruises (some longer): Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, Caribbean, Central America, both coasts of South America, West Africa and Southern Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, French Polynesia and Oceania, Hawaii,  Indonesia, East Asia and focus on Japan, Eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Antarctica, the Arctic including the Northwest Passage, trans0ocean positioning voyages. A few highlights include (and it’s a moveable feast:

  • 10- and 16-night Antarctica cruises November – February
  • Iceland & Arctic Circle cruises in summer; also Northwest Passage, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes
  • 6- and 7-night cruises out of Martinique to the Grenadine Islands in the winter; also Cuba (Cuban calls suspended due to a US government ban.
  • 7-night Croatia cruises round-trip out of Venice between May and September; also Western & Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt
  • 9-night New Zealand cruises in January and February; also Australia’s eastern coast
  • 7- to 13-night Alaska cruises in June and July; including Aleutian Islands
  • 13-night Chile cruises in November and February; also Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Sea of Cortez
  • New tropical destinations are being added to include the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, also Maldives and Madagascar, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, also French Polynesia, Easter Island
  • South and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Eastern Russia.
Why Go?

The French flare, the amazing food, the gorgeous interiors — tres chic. In 2018 Ponant signed an agreement with National Geographic Expeditions to have the latter’s experts and photographers come aboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia/Pacific.

When to Go?

The fleet cruises in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

LE PONANT is an 88-meter, three-masted sailing ship with lots of wood and nautical touches such as navy blue and white bedding and fabrics in the rooms. Most cabins are on the lowest of the four passenger decks and have twin beds — two rooms have king beds — and there are a few triples. Five larger cabins are higher up on the Antigua Deck.

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL are nearly identical sister ships with the majority of cabins measuring between 200 and 236 square feet, not including the balconies (which all but eight cabins have). Cabins are designed in stylish neutrals of champagne, smoky greys or blues, and crisp whites with pops of color, like a red border on a bed throw or pillow.

All cabins are stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, mini bars and iPods, and a have a great split bathroom set-up — toilet in one little room and a large shower (and/or tub) and sink in another. They also have a desk and great adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed. Many standard cabins can accommodate three people with one on a sofa bed; ideal for families are the Prestige suites, which are ostensibly two connecting standard cabins. There are four large suites on the Deck 6 near the top of the ship.

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

The new 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER  began arriving in mid-2018 and will continue into 2020. A feature on the new ships is the Blue Eye, an underwater sightseeing lounge. They make up what is termed Ponant Explorer Class with enhanced ice-breaking capabilities.

Public Rooms

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL have two restaurants, one main entertainment lounge, one combination lounge/bar, and a lovely outdoor bar with sea views. There is no casino. Each has a spa with a Turkish steam room, hair salon, and an excellent ocean-view gym with a row of treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus a Kinesis wall with weights, pulls and grips for weight training.

A small library area (with a Wii console nearby) and a boutique round out the public areas, unless you also count the medical clinic. The smaller LE PONANT has two restaurants, two indoor lounges and lots of deck space for sunbathing. All five of the vessels have a platform for watersports when anchored in favorable conditions.

Dining

Cuisine is a big part of the Ponant experience, and I still sometimes dream about the dark chocolate mousses we devoured on a L’AUSTRAL cruise to Croatia (I gained several solid pounds on that cruise). Each of the five ships has two restaurants, one a more formal fine-dining multi-course French gourmet venue for dinner and the other a casual buffet restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating and themed offerings. Some of the chefs are French (the pastry chef was on my last cruise) and no matter where they are from, they’ve been schooled in the French culinary tradition.

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Meals incorporate fish and grilled seafood, and plenty of delicious soups and salads of all kinds. When possible, local ingredients are used, from cherries in Kotor, Croatia, to rainbow trout from Nunavut, in the Arctic. Amazing desserts on offer might comprise a hazelnut mousse cake, lemon meringue tarts and that to die-to-for chocolate mousse already mentioned; easily the best desserts I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

A selection of cheeses from France and Italy are a staple in the buffet and of the complimentary wines generously poured, I remember an especially refreshing French rose at lunch on route to our next Croatian port of call. You can always order a bottle off the extensive menu if you want something extra special.

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

Activities & Entertainment

The ships are in port every day, or nearly so, but if there’s a sea day, most people enjoy simply sunbathing by the pool and soaking up the scenery. In the French way of doing things, there isn’t an abundance of scheduled activities or group events. There are theme cruises from time to time focused on gourmet food and wine, film and topics like oceanography, with experts on board giving talks and demonstrations.

Evenings, a singing duo moves around the ship before and after dinner to serenade passengers as they sip cocktails and chat about the day’s adventures and the ones that lay ahead. At the top of the tiered decks at the stern on LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL is a wonderful al-fresco bar, an ideal place to plant yourself as the ship sails off into the sunset — likewise on LE PONANT’s sun deck. After dinner from time to time, a dance performance or film screening may be scheduled in the show lounge of the four sister ships.

The new and larger 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE, LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER started to debut in mid-2018 and continued into 2020, and the larger 270-passenger LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT will launch polar explorations in April 2021.

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 2838, New York, NY 10170; us.ponant.com, 1-888-400-1082.

— HMS

 

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Monastery visit on a Scenic Cruise

QuirkyCruise Reader Review

Scenic Spirit on Mekong River

REVIEWER

Sheila Healey from the US.

CRUISE LINE

Scenic.

SHIP

Scenic Spirit.

DESTINATION

Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

October 2018, from Siem Reap, Cambodia downstream into Vietnam.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HOW MANY SMALL-SHIP CRUISES HAVE YOU BEEN ON?

6.

REVIEW

If you want an escape in comfort, with a good balance of UNESCO World Heritage sites and small village and temples excursions while river touring, then the Scenic Spirit is the ticket.  This over-worked New Yorker was in love from the get go. As Australian-owned you get a well appointed Modern-designed vessel along with a realistic view of the region.

This 10-day trip transported me to 9th-century Angkor Wat with a knowledgable guide and then back to Siem Reap for total comfort at the lovely Hyatt Regency for two days before we began the river segment of the trip. The guide team was exceptional in their knowledge throughout Cambodia and Vietnam and happy to assist in any need. The staff on the Scenic Spirit was just lovely and aimed to please. One of the highlights on board was the spa and pricing — a plus while traveling in Asia. With 45-minute foot massages for $20, I happily booked three times while on board. It’s the little things in life!

As many will ask about our food and wine selections while on board — overall decent choices and the kitchen did its best with a lovely fresh juice selection daily at  breakfast. I absolutely took advantage of the watermelon juice offerings!  Local cuisine was always a staple as well as western ala carte selections for the less adventurous traveler. Yes, we had the option of beetles and scorpions for one of our lunch selections. If you are a hard core foodie you may be let down at times, but you will have plenty of time to explore Saigon and Phnom Penh for that special food experience, which of course we did!

Our Cabin was super comfortable and the beds beyond inviting.  The size of the cabin is much larger than most river cruise ships and one feels the need to linger at times to enjoy the river views. A real plus was that the windows open with the touch of a button. perfect for your own private sunset photo opportunity while sipping champagne.

The excursions were  quite good overall. To me, the Cambodian side of the trip was more interesting (given excursions like Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields) than the Vietnam side of the trip, which was much more in the vein of local markets and small temple visits. We opted one afternoon to stay on the boat and enjoy the small pool and bar, which was quite enjoyable. WIFI is available, but at times non-existent, which assists in getting one off the grid and much appreciated.

If you are looking to get off the merry-go-round of western life, but don’t want to let go of your creature comforts this may be your kind of holiday. For me Cambodia invaded my soul and touched my heart in a way I wasn’t expecting. The Mekong awaits!

➢➢Peruse more Reader Reviews HERE  …. and …. REVIEW your latest small ship-cruise ✍🏽 HERE  ✍🏽

 

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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of brands that also includes Cosmos. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market and is adding new ships with suite features that are unique to the line. Avalon operates a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as relatively new programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy (not 2019),  Ganges (began 2019) and the Nile (2020).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

European Rivers
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AVALON IMAGERY II (built 2016 & 128 passengers); AVALON PASSION (b. 2016 & 166p); AVALON TAPESTRY II & AVALON TRANQUILITY II (b. 2015 & 128 p); AVALON IMPRESSION (b. 2014 & 166p); AVALON POETRY II (b. 2014 & 128 p); AVALON ARTISTRY II (b. 2013 & 128 p); AVALON VISTA (b. 2012 & 166p); AVALON VISIONARY (b. 2012 & 128 p); AVALON LUMINARY & AVALON FELICITY (b. 2010 & 138 p); AVALON PANORAMA (b. 2011 & 166p); AVALON AFFINITY (b. 2009 & 138p); AVALON CREATIVITY( b. 2009 & 128p) and AVALON SCENERY (b. 2008 & 216 p). An addition to the fleet in 2019 will be AVALON ENVISION (b. 2019 & 166 passengers).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Passenger Profile

Most, age 50 and above, hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia with some younger passengers on the shorter itineraries.

Passenger Decks

All riverboats have four decks, and an elevator connects the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Most shore excursions, WiFi (including in cabins), minibar with bottled water, regional wines and beers with dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast, coffees, teas and hot chocolate throughout the day, cabin TV with English-speaking channels and 100 movie options.

Itineraries

The huge variety offers cruise tours lasting from 5 to 22 nights, generally adding a land portion at one or both ends of the river cruise. Land travel may be by high-speed train such as TGV, Thalys, and Eurostar or coach.

Springtime tulip bulb season cruises along the intricate waterways of Belgium and Holland; French rivers include the Seine, Rhone and Soane; the Rhine with or without the Moselle; combine the Rhine and Rhone between Amsterdam and Cote D’Azur; the Upper and/or Lower Danube, the latter including, on some cruises, sailing all the way to the Danube Delta just in from the Black Sea.

Longer itineraries may cover, for instance, the Upper Rhine and then via the Main, Main-Danube Canal and the Danube all the way to Vienna; with the granddaddy of all from the North Sea to the Black Sea (22 nights).

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks.

When to Go?

Most cruises operate from April through October, while some begin in March and end in November. Christmas markets cruises have increasing appeal.

Cabins

All riverboats, except the five built between 2008 and 2010, are designated Avalon Suite Ships and come with larger cabins and substantially different configuration – for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a large 11-foot glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside. The remaining five boats offer four 258 sq. ft. Royal Suites with a similar layout but where the TV interrupts the continuous glass window, and 172 sq. ft. Avalon Deluxe Suites. All Indigo Deck (lowest) deck cabins have small rectangular windows set high in the wall as they are located just above the waterline.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Public Rooms

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar, aft facing Club Lounge, and main dining room. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool, Sky Bistro for light meals and navigation bridge.

Dining

The pattern for meals is pretty much the same throughout the fleet of European riverboats, though the boats built in the last few years have more sophisticated alternative meal set ups. The food is geared for those who would like to branch out and taste regional offerings or stick with what one likes to eat at home.

Breakfast has an open window of times to cater to early risers or those who want to sleep in. Breakfast and lunch are buffet with the latter available at the top deck Sky Bistro (a grill), inside the Panorama Lounge (light fare) or in the big-windowed main dining room.

Dinner is served here as well, while those wanting something lighter than a served three-course, can frequent the Panorama Lounge’s more informal setting.

An Avalon meal on a southeast Asia river cruise. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Activities & Entertainment

Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus. On board entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway. All vessels have a top deck whirlpool and small fitness centers on the lowest decks. Newish are Active Discovery cruises on the Danube that offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine and take archery lessons.

Avalon Waterways

Entertainment in the Panorama Lounge of the Avalon Artistry II. * Photo: Avalon

Special Notes

While this high-quality fleet is of basically a similar design, and the itinerary likely the deciding factor, having a bed configuration that allows you to wake up and linger between the sheets while watching the river scene pass above your toes just may dictate an Avalon Suite Ship.

Along the Same Lines

Many other European river cruise lines.

 

Avalon’s cruise tour programs to South America, Asia and Eqypt are briefly outlined below.

GALAPAGOS & AMAZON

Avalon Waterways charters the TREASURE OF GALAPAGOS, a catamaran with accommodations for 18 (b. 2009 and refurbished 2017) for a 4-night Galapagos cruise that adds up to a 8-day cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador. It also does a 12-day cruise tour that adds a 3-night Amazon River lodge stay; a 15-day cruise tour that combines the 4-night Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 20-day cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

Treasure of Galapagos, Avalonn Waterways

Avalon Waterways, Treasure of Galapagos

Another option includes a 3-night Amazon River cruise aboard the 44-passenger DELFIN III (formerly AMAZON DISCOVERY; b.2015), which Avalon charters. The ship’s cabins are all outside and consists of staterooms measuring 237 sq. ft. , corner staterooms 253 sq. ft. and the owner’s at 537 sq. ft. Departures are January to July and September to November.

There are also 3-night cruises of the Peruvian Amazon from Iquitos, to look for wildlife in the river and the surrounding rain forest landscapes plus village visits both combined with 11- and 13-day land tours that include Lima, the capital of Peru, Cusco and Machu Picchu and the longest, the Nazca Lines.

Avalon Waterways

The Delfin III, seen here when still called Amazon Discovery. * Photo: Steve Cukrov for Globlus/Avalon.

A selection of 18- and 20-day cruise tours combine the Amazon River cruise with the land destinations in Peru and Ecuador plus a Galapagos cruise. The river boat’s 237- and 253-sq. ft. cabins with huge floor-to-ceiling picture windows are spread over two of the three decks. Beds may be configured as twins or king-size. In addition, there is one single and a 597-sq. ft. suite that faces forward. Public spaces are an indoor and covered outdoor lounge, aft dining room with large view windows, a spa, small gym and plunge pool. A 24-hour medic is aboard. Departures are January-June and September to November.

Avalon Waterways

The silt-laden waters of the Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

EGYPT
The Nile

(Note: Nile cruises begin in 2020).

Avalon Waterways

A camel watches over its territory, the site of the pyramids at Giza. * Photo: Ted Scull

10-day Egyptian cruise tours, operating year-round, include hotel stays in Cairo for the museum and the Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis and more that bracket a 4-night Nile cruise to Luxor, Karnak, Aswan, Edfu and Kom Ombo. The MS FARAH, built in 2011, provides the cruise. 58 cabins and two suites provide large picture windows, Internet and bathrooms have bathtubs.

INDIA

Ganges River

Avalon Cruise began Ganges River cruises in 2019, operating the 56-passenger GANGES VOYAGER in the cooler months of January and February and September to November. The shortest 13-day cruise-tour begins in New Delhi or Kolkata and includes a 6-night cruise plus hotel stays in Agra for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. 16-day cruise tours add Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, and 18-days add Mumbai and Kochi (Cochin) but not Kathmandu. The riverboat decorated in colonial-era style has cabins measuring 260, 280, 360, and 400 square feet, offer Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

GANGES VOYAGER, Avalonn Cruises

GANGES VOYAGER, Heritage Suite Avalon Cruises

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA & CHINA
Mekong River

The mighty Mekong rises in China and passes through three Southeast Asian countries. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avalon Waterways operates the 2015-built, 36-passenger AVALON SIEM REAP and 2018-built sistership AVALON SAIGON cruising on 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City’s waterfront, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The riverboats’ 245 sq. ft. cabins, located in two decks, all open to the outside with 14-foot sliding glass doors and windows. A forward-facing covered lounge give a 180-degree and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar. The aft dining room seats all at once for buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The wide-ranging itineraries, in time and places visited, combine a 7-night cruise with a hotel stay and sightseeing at both ends that can add up to 13- to 21-day cruise tours to include — your choice of  extensions — Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Halong Bay in Vietnam; Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos; and Bangkok, Thailand. Departures are January to April and July to December.

Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River – N.B. THIS CRUISE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon operates its own riverboat some 1,300 miles along the Upper Irrawaddy River between Yangon and Bhamo (northern limit if navigation) with a hotel stay in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital adding up to 14 days and an extension to Bangkok that creates a 17-day cruise tour.

The 36-passenger AVALON MYANMAR was completed in 2015 and takes up to 36 passengers. Sights visited along the river are pagodas, Buddhist monasteries, and riverside villages where the local activities produce candy made from palm trees, pottery, and food from adjacent farms. Note: These itineraries operated September-December in 2018, and none are scheduled for 2019.

The well-fitted out riverboat offers 245-sq.ft. Avalon Suites spread over two decks where the twin or king-size beds face a 14-foot-wide wall of glass that opens to a railing and the world outside, similar in layout to many of the line’s European riverboat fleet. A forward open-air covered lounge shares the Mandalay Deck with an adjacent enclosed lounge and an aft dining room. The Sky Deck’s lounge is covered and next to the spa treatment room and gym.

China and the Yangtze River: N.B. THESE CRUISES ARE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon takes space for up 20 passengers on two Yangtze River vessels that combine a 3- or 4-night, 650-mile cruise between Yichang and Chongqing into 11- and up to 17-day cruise tours that include major sights in China such as Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong on the longer cruise tours. The 7-deck riverboat CENTURY LEGEND, completed in 2013, handles up to 392 passengers (oops, higher than QC’s 300-pax max!).

To personalize the cruise portion, all meals, apart from the farewell banquet, take place in the Sun Deck VIP restaurant. Meals feature Chinese buffets and a la carte Western dishes. Wine, beer, and soda are complimentary at dinner. Cabins (266 sq. ft.) are all outside with balconies and separate bathtubs and 24-hour access to an Executive Lounge. The boat’s amenities include an indoor swimming pool (unusual feature), library, game room, cinema, and gym.

All land tours are private to Avalon and land extensions do not exceed 20. Itineraries extend from April to October, though some specific tours do not include the searingly hot months of mid-June to mid-August.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, P.O. Box 3219, Highland Park, MI 48203;  Avalonwaterways.com; 877-380-1540

TWS

 

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Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA EXPEDITIONS began operating a high-end riverboat on the Peruvian Amazon in 2007. Cruises begin and end at Iquitos, Peru and sail to one source of the Amazon and in the vast the Pacaya Samira Reserve seeing wildlife and visiting riverside communities. In 2014, the firm established a second base in South East Asia with cruises along the Mekong aboard the AQUA MEKONG between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In November 2019, the AQUA BLU was added to the fleet offering 7- and 12-day Indonesian island cruises from Komodo National Park to Ambon, Spice Islands and Raja Ampat. The 15-suite ship formerly operated as a British Naval Explorer and has been upgraded to yacht standards. A fourth vessel, AQUA NERA, is set to debut in October 2020 to do Peruvian Amazon cruises, replacing the AQUA AMAZON that was lost in July 2016.

Aqua Expeditions operates one of the top river experiences in the lap of luxury along the Amazon and Southeast Asia’s Mekong  and more recently eastern Indonesia. And seeing is believing: visibility through floor-to-ceiling glass is a huge plus.  

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

ARIA AMAZON (built 2011 & 32 passengers); AQUA MEKONG (b. 2014 & 40 p); AQUA BLU (b. 1968, converted 2006, refurbished 2019 & 30 passengers); AQUA NERA (to debut Oct 2020 & 40 p).

Passenger Decks

3 Decks, No elevator. AQUA BLU 5 decks.

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Passenger Profile

Guides cater to English, French and German speakers. Children must be at least seven to travel. Interconnecting cabins for families.

Price

Expensive — $$$

Itineraries

Peruvian Amazon Cruises

ARIA AMAZON (and AQUA NERA as of October 2020) make 3- (partial), 4- (partial) and 7-night (combining the two) cruises year-round from Iquitos along several Upper Amazon river tributaries, including the Ucayali and Maranon rivers to the Pacaya Samira Reserve, a five-million-acre flooded rain forest punctuated by black lagoons that dramatically reflect the surrounding trees. Activities visit riverside villages and food markets, and offer hikes in the rain forest and skiffs for water exploration and fishing for piranhas.

Keen eyes look for freshwater pink dolphins, turtles, lizards, caiman, iguanas, and frogs (some poisonous), snakes, sloths, capuchins, squirrel and howler monkeys, terns, toucans, and macaws.

With the cruises of short duration, many travelers choose to add on some of the following: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Lima and/or Nazca Lines.

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, soft drinks, premium wines and craft beers with meals; all excursions and entrance fees; use of bikes and kayaks; and transfers between the boat and airport on company recommended flights. Complimentary laundry service. Tipping is extra and recommended rates are $81-120 for 3 nights and $108-160 for 4 nights including crew and guides.

Why Go?

The outstanding varieties of mammals, birds, and aquatic species seen along the rivers and in the deep rain forests simply are staggering. The riverboats are more than comfortable and allow down time after a day exploring in small craft and on foot.

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how far the skiffs can penetrate the rain forest via narrow tributaries.

Cabins

ARIA AMAZON has 16 cabins with polished wooden floors that measure a generous 250 square feet with beds positioned to face the expansive floor-to-ceiling glass windows flanked by two chairs and a table. With windows like these, you’ll practically feel like you’re IN the river with the wild critters!

AQUA NERA has 20 suites on two decks that measure an even more generous 322 sq. ft., again with large windows.

Aria Amazon's gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aria Amazon’s gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

ARIA AMAZON and AQUA NERA have an indoor lounge with large view windows, bar and library selection and a top deck lounge both open and under a canvas awning, especially enjoyable when the boat is underway. AQUA NERA has a screening room and pool table.

Dining

The floor-to-ceiling windows bring in lots of light during meals while passengers dine at tables for two, four or six. AQUA NERA offers indoor or outdoor dining. The stylish settings serve 70% locally sourced fish from the Amazon, fresh fruits and vegetables and premium South American and European wines.

Much effort is put into meal preparation that achieves the best in Peruvian-style cuisine for signature dishes such as Peruvian ceviche, combining a river fish, juicy onions and corn kernels spiced with cilantro and coriander, or plantain and yucca gnocchi, and palm soufflé. Cooking demonstrations reveal the techniques and ingredients.

Dining on Aqua Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining on the Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

The ARIA AMAZON is equipped with a massage room, stationary bicycle and treadmill, and a Jacuzzi on the outdoor lounge deck. AQUA NERA has two spa treatment rooms, gym and plunge pool. Talks by the English-speaking guides take place in the lounge, and passengers go ashore with multiple guides in very small groups (6-8).

The vessel offers two or three excursions daily and aluminium skiffs take no more than eight passengers and are manned by a guide trained to spot animals and birds that might otherwise go unnoticed in murky water and rain forest settings. Kayaks are available.

AQUA NERA has four 10-person aluminum launch boats. Staffing and passenger ratio are one-to-one on both vessels.

Mekong River Cruises

AQUA MEKONG offers 7-night cruises between a docking point near Siem Reap, Cambodia, and My Tho, a Vietnamese port in the delta, with access by bus to and from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the temples of Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, Cambodia).

The 3- and4-night cruises may start or finish at either end and embark or disembark part way along at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Because the river cruises are short, consider adding any of these destinations: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue and Angkor Wat.

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of bikes and kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

Both Cambodia and Vietnam are culturally rich in architecture and the arts and crafts, and traveling the Mekong allows close up views of the passing scene with considerable trade plying the river, manufacturing, towns and cities lining the shores, and a chance to tie up and explore markets, watch Buddhist ceremonies, and enjoy a home visit.

Aqua Expeditions

Views from the sundeck. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

Cruises operate year-round with some itinerary adjustments depending on high or low water levels. Rainy season normally extends from November to May. Daytime temperature are cooler. During high water periods, the boat can sail to and from Tonle Sap Lake with easy access to Angkor Wat and into the emerald flooded forest in Vietnam.

Cabins

The accommodations measure a very spacious 320 square feet, and eight have balconies and all floor-to-ceiling windows. Four sets interconnect two suites, for families or for one giant suite for two, and all bathrooms feature twin sinks.

Public Rooms

Indoor spaces are a lounge with bar, a small indoor cinema, and boutique. Outdoors on the Sun Deck are two lounge areas with canopies and bar, sun loungers at one end and sit-up bar and table and chair seating at the other. Staff ratio on AQUA MEKONG is one-to-one.

Aqua Expeditions Mekong lounge

Aqua Mekong’s Indoor Lounge * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

The setting is sophisticated with large windows giving clear views of the Mekong, where passengers may sit as a couple or at larger tables. Menus feature Vietnamese and Khmer traditions that may include Vietnamese catfish with shallots, chilies and basil; grilled prawns with peanut relish; vegetable dumplings; and chocolate fondant (a tip to French influence in Indochina).

Aqua Expeditions dining room on Mekong

The windowed dining room. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

From the plunge pool on the Sun Deck, you can look forward; the spa has two treatment rooms, and there is a gym, foosball in the games room cum library, screenings for up to 10 people in the indoor cinema or attended by a larger group out on the covered deck. Four tenders take passengers on river outings and ashore when the boat cannot dock.

Visits are made to plantations, homes, artisan compounds, markets, Buddhist temples, markets with the boat’s chef, and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the Royal Palace, Silver Temple, National Museum and Museum of Genocide. Bicycles are available for guided trips into the countryside, stopping to see farming operations, markets and village life. Motorized tuks tuks venture further.

Indonesia Cruises

AQUA BLU entered service in November 2019 to cruise in Eastern Indonesia. The ship, converted from British Naval Exploration ship now operates as a high-end cruising yacht for 30 passengers in 15 suites.

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA BLU cruises the eastern Indonesian islands. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

The cruises in Eastern Indonesia are offered in three different 7-night itineraries, plus connecting voyages:

1) Bali to Komodo National Park, visiting a series of closely packed islands with disembarkation at western tip of Flores Island and in the opposite direction;

2) 7 nights to Ambon and the Spice Islands; and

3) 7 nights to Raja Ampat, a recently popular area of extreme tropical island beauty, rain forests and tropical birds, beaches and coral reefs with abundant marine life at and off the western tip of West Papua.

Komodo National Park

The Moyo Island Waterfall in the Komodo National Park. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

The program is year-round when combining all three repeating itineraries.

Cabins

15 suites are situated on four decks and fall into three categories with two pairs of suites interconnecting, for families or good friends. The accommodations have round, rectangular, and oval windows and portholes.

Aqua Expeditions cabin

Windowed suite on Bridge Deck 1. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

Lounge spaces offer choices between out in the open or beneath a covered deck seating, or totally within A/C room; small library collection and a TV room.

Aqua Expeditions lounge

The ship’s hub, the main lounge. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

Meals are served in one of two locations, depending on the temperature and weather conditions: open air, including BBQ, or air-conditioned and at both venues open seating. As the ship operates in a tropical island climate, lots of local fish, fruits and vegetables are close at hand in  addition what is supplied to the ship as embarkation ports.

Aqua Expeditions dining

Lovely outdoor dining. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities and Entertainment

Enjoy lectures, videos, snorkeling, and swimming. There’s an exercise room, spa and a pair of outdoor hot tubs.

Aqua Expeditions hot tubs

A pair of dreamy outdoor hot tubs. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Special Note

In July 2016, AQUA AMAZON was lost in an explosion, with deaths and injuries to the crew, while no passengers were aboard.

Along the Same Lines

There is a wide choice of operators in both of Aqua Expeditions’ cruising regions, including Star Clippers, Pandaw, SeaTrek Sailing Adventures, Scenic & AmaWaterways.

Contacts

Go to www.aquaexpeditions.com; USA & Canada: 866-603-3687; UK: +0 808 189 0361; Australia: +1 800 243 152; New Zealand: +0 800 466 098.

 

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CrosiEurope

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A family-owned French firm based in Strasbourg that started up in 1976 now operates one of the largest inland waters’ fleets in Europe with both river and canal boats. The river cruises travel on waterways throughout Europe, providing one of the main attractions for those looking for less traveled destinations.

In addition, coastal cruises fan out from Naples to the Amalfi Coast, Aeolian Islands, and Sicily, from Naples to Greece, and along Croatian coast and Montenegro. Additional river and island coastal cruises, beyond Europe, appear below. The total fleet worldwide now numbers almost 50 vessels. The firm caters to English speakers as well as European nationalities, and bien sur, the French.

CroisiEurope

Danube River scene. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

The river fleet numbers 40+. A sample listing follows. A “P” following a ship’s name indicates Premium, the newest and heavily remodeled vessels with larger cabins and more amenities.

Seine: SEINE PRINCESS-P (b. 2002, renovated 2012, 134p); BOTTICELLI (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 150p); RENOIR-P (b. 2018, 110p)

Rhine & Danube: LA BOHEME (built 1995, renovated 2011, 162 passengers, 108 sq. ft. cabins); BEETHOVEN (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 180p, cabins 140 sq. ft.); LAFAYETTE-P (b. 2014, 86p, cabin size N.A.); VIVALDI-P (b. 2009, 176p); GERARD SCHMITTER-P (b. 2012, 174p); EUROPE (b. 2006, renovated, 2011, 180p); FRANCE (b. 1999, renovated 2011, 156p); LEONARDO DA VINCI (b. 2oo3, renovated 2011, 174p); MODIGLIANI (b. 2001, renovated 2011, 156p); VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 96p); SYMPHONIE-P (b. 2010, renovated 2017, 108p); MONET (b. 1999, renovated 2007, 156p); DOUCE FRANCE (b. 1997, renovated 2017, 110p). N.B. The Moselle has been added with cruises embarking in Basel.

Rhone & Soane: MISTRAL (b. 1999, 158p, cabins 118 sq. ft.); VAN GOGH-P (b. 2018, 110p); CAMARGUE-P (b. 2015, 108p); RHONE PRINCESS (b. 2001/renovated 2011, 138p)

Garonne/Dordogne: CYRANO DE BERGERAC-P (b. 2013, 174p, 140 sq. ft)

CroisiEurope

Cyrano in Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Loire: LOIRE PRINCESS-P (b. 2014, 96 p, cabin size N.A.), a sidewheel paddle boat with a shallow draft designed to negotiate shallow waters.

Douro: GIL EANES-P (b. 2015, 32p, cabin size N.A.); MIGUEL TORGA-P (b. 2016, 136p); VASCO DA GAMA (b. 2002, 142p, cabins 129 sq. ft.); INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE (b. 2003, renovated 2014, 142p); FERNAO DE MAGALHAES (b. 2003, renovated 2011, 142p); AMALIA RODRIGUES (b. 2019)

SW Spain: LA BELLE DE CADIZ-P (b. 2005, renovated 2010, 176p, cabins 118 sq. ft.)

Po (Italy): MICHELANGELO (b. 2000, renovated 2011, 156p, cabin size N.A.)

Elbe & Moldau: L’ELBE PRINCESSE-P (b. 2016, 80p, cabin size N.A.); L’ELBE PRINCESSE II-P  (b. 2018, 86p, cabin size N.A.); N.B. These two are paddle wheelers with the ability to navigate shallow waters to reach the center of Prague. VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 48p)

Russia & the Volga: ROSTROPOVITCH (b. 1980, rebuilt 2010, 212p, cabins 126-243 sq.ft).

French Canals: Six French hotel canal barges built 2014-2016 and one renovated 2013; five taking 22p and one 24p, operating in Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire & Provence.

Coastal Ships: In addition, the CroisiEurope also runs LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIQUE-P (b. 2007, renovated 2017, 198p), a five-deck oceangoing ship operating in the Mediterranean (Italy, Sicily, Croatia & Greece) with all outside 151sq. ft. cabins.  In October 2019, the line takes on the former Silver Discoverer (Silverseas and originally built for the Japanese market as the Oceanic Grace in 1989)  to operate as LA BELLE DES OCEANS (120 passengers) on itineraries beginning in East Asia then working its way westward to Europe. SEE BELOW.

Canada & the St. Lawrence: New for 2020: Cruises (11 nights) will begin at Montreal with an overnight then a flight to St. Pierre et Miquelon, French territorial islands near the mouth of the St. Lawrence and just south of Newfoundland. The coastal vessel LA BELLE DE OCEANS (120 passengers) will cruise to Cap-aux-Meules (Magdalen Islands), Gaspe and Perce Rock, Baie-Comeau, Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay then upriver to Chicoutimi and along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City and Montreal (with a full day and overnight aboard before disembarking. This itinerary is likely to appeal to the French from France and to the growing North American market. Cruises operate between mid-June and mid-September (the beginning of fall footage).

Mekong River: INDOCHINE, a colonial-style boat operates on the Mekong (b. 2008 and taking 48 passengers in 172 sq, ft. all outside cabins); INDOCHINE II-P (b. 2017, 62 passengers, in 242 sq. ft. all outside cabins; LAN-DIEP (b. 2007, 44p), TOUM TIOU I (b. 2002, 20p) and TOUM TIOU II (b. 2008, 28p).

Southeast Asia, South Asia, Persian Gulf & Middle East: BELLE DES OCEANS (built 1989 & 120p) Cruises November 2019 to February 2020. Thailand & Malaysia 9 days; India & Sri Lanka 11 days; Dubai & Oman 8 days; and Jordan, Egypt, Israel & Cyprus 10 days.

CroisiEurope

Belle des Océans. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Inland Southern Africa: A relatively new offering is the riverboat AFRICAN DREAM (b. 2017, 16p) operating on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, southern Africa. The cruises are paired with a land stay at a lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River on the Border of Namibia and Botswana.The vessel takes just 16 passengers with 8 suites, including two with balconies. In 2020, the 16-passenger ZIMBABWEAN DREAM, built locally at Harare, will arrive to provide a second vessel for the Lake Kariba cruise portion of a longer tour that includes Victoria Falls and Botswana’s Chobe National Park with stays in riverside lodges.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by Croisieurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by CroisiEurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

While the first language aboard is French, English is also used for all announcements and entertainment, and is widely spoken amongst the crew. For some British and North Americans, the international experience is a major plus, though you will likely be in the minority. German, Italian and Spanish passengers may also be aboard.

Passenger Decks

The riverboat fleet includes three and four deckers, including the top open deck.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

All drinks, from wines to beer, cocktails and soft drinks, are included in fares during the main season from April to October. For North American passengers, all excursions are included, from walking and motor coach tours, to even, for instance, a thrilling helicopter ride on the Bordeaux itineraries from Pauillac over the vineyards of the Medoc region.

CroisiEurope Cruises

A helicopter ride over the vineyards near Bordeaux is a highlight of a Garonne River cruise. Photo: Heidi Sarna

Itineraries

The usual Europe rivers are included such as Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Main, Danube, Seine, Soane, Rhone, Douro (Portugal), Gironde and Garonne (SW France), and St. Petersburg to Moscow along rivers, canals and across lake and reservoirs.

More unusual are the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Andalusia (Southern Spain); the Po in Northern Italy; the Loire from St. Nazaire inland to Nantes and Angers (via shallow-draft paddleboat); Amsterdam to Berlin (unusual route) via waterways that connect the Rhine and tributaries with the Elbe across Northern Germany; and the Elbe and Moldau inland as far as central Prague by new shallow-draft sternwheelers 80-passenger L’ELBE PRINCESSE and L’ELBE PRINCESSE II (2018) taking 86 passengers. European river cruises operate nearly year-round.

Beyond Europe, Botswana‘s Chobe River in southern Africa plus Victoria Falls, and Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, are exotic options, plus ocean cruises to Malaysia and Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, the Persian Gulf, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

In another category, canal cruises operate on waterways throughout France using 22-passenger barges. Coastal cruises operate from Naples to Italian ports, islands and Sicily, and in the Adriatic to mostly Croatian ports and Montenegro and Greece, including Corfu.

Since 2018, CroisiEurope is a booking agent for selected 9-night cruises of the St. Lawrence River aboard the newly rebuilt MS JACQUES CARTIER, calling at Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Niagara Falls and passing along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIC operates in the Mediterranean. * Photo: Croisieurope

Why Go?

A French cruise line with an international passenger list may appeal to English speakers who would like to travel with Europeans (with French, Belgian and French-speaking Swiss in the majority), rather than just mostly North Americans.

When to Go?

The cruises operate during the best weather seasons, and the busy travel months of mid-June to September can often be avoided by choosing a spring or autumn date. Some departures are geared to the flowering bulb season in Belgian and the Netherlands, grape wine harvest in France and Germany, and a European-style Christmas (with markets) and New Year’s.

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

Most are of small to moderate size, outside with windows, beds in twin or double configuration. Some newer boats have larger cabins if that is an important factor, and some offer a few single cabins. Amenities include radio and TV.

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A standard cabin aboard Cyrano de Bergerac. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Public Rooms

All boats offer a forward lounge with bar for viewing and enjoying the entertainment, a dining room that seats all at the same time, and a top deck with both open and sheltered seating. During passages under very low bridges, the deck may have to be cleared of seating and railings.

Dining

Breakfast is a buffet while lunch and dinner are fine French cuisine set served three-course meals with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks. It pays to like the local food; there is a lot of duck on the menu as that’s a very popular French dish in its various permutations. Passengers are assigned tables according to their language. Some North Americans may find the full lunch menu a bit much, so you may wish to skip a course.

CroiseEurope

An elegant lunch onboard with complimentary wine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

Pre-dinner and sometimes post-dinner games, dancing and live music from a duo on the electronic piano and guitar. Basically, the it’s social interaction amongst the passengers that holds sway rather than sophisticated entertainment.

The Salon Bar on the Symphonie. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Special Notes

Consider the international flavor, which might be a plus or minus for you.

Along the Same Lines

CroisiEurope is probably the most international of the riverboat lines we cover. Others may cater only to English speakers (including those who speak the language well in addition to their native tongue) or specific nationalities such as German and Swiss or Spanish.

Contact

Go to www.croisieuroperivercruises.com; 800-768-7232.

TWS

 

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G Adventures

For more than 30 years, G Adventures has been offering affordable adventure travel around the world including small-ship cruises (about 10-15% of their total annual business) on private yachts, catamarans and oceangoing expedition-style ships, with more recent offerings on riverboats. They also sell travel by rail, road and air. Their MO is providing small groups with authentic cultural experiences, through local guides, cuisine, and transport and uncontrived excursions. The target skews younger — 20s to 50s — than most other travel companies; though any age will be comfortable if they’ve got a young-at-heart attitude and a decent level of fitness.

A trained, local CEO, or Chief Experience Officer, guides all trips and acts as the point person to make sure things run smoothly. (On the G EXPEDITION ship, there are additional expert guides in various disciplines). The emphasis is on active exploring, using bicycles for example, and on supporting local businesses and communities (i.e. through visits to schools and charity-supported restaurants in Cambodia).

To keep rates reasonable on the various sailing trips, meals are not included, instead the skipper collects a modest amount of money from passengers who want to share a simple breakfast and lunch on board (skipper goes grocery shopping for the basics); for dinner, it’s expected that passengers will want to eat dinner in port on the islands (who wouldn’t want to!). A BYOB policy (bring your own booze) is in effect on board most of the Europe-based sailing and river cruises. The line matches same sex passengers to avoid single fares.

With 700 itineraries in more than 90 countries (including the new series of in-depth riverboat tours called National Geographic Journeys), G Adventures excels in offering trips geared to various ages, styles and interests — from families with young children to budget-minded “yolo’s” (the 18- to 39-year-old set).  Adventures is dynamic, cutting-edge, socially minded and hip (cue the great photos and video on their website), and definitely thinks outside of the typical travel company box. Quirky cruise anyone?

The line owns the G EXPEDITION ship for trips to the Arctic and Antarctica, and does full-ship charters for its many other small-ship offerings (hence ships may vary from year to year, and listings below reflect a portion of their current fleet). Consult their 150-page encyclopedia!

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

XAVIER III (built 1996, refurbished 2004; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

MONSERRAT (built 2005, refurbished 2016; 20 passengers) – Galapagos

QUEEN OF THE GALAPAGOS (built 2007; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

YOLITA (built 2007, refurbished 2016; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (built 1990, refurbished 2014; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

REINA SILVIA VOYAGER  (built 2020; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

EDEN  (built 2000, refurbished 2012; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

G EXPEDITION (built 1972, refurbished 2008; 134 passengers) – Arctic/Antarctica, designed to Ice Class 1B specifications

DANIELE (built 2015; 22 passengers) – Burgundy, France

TOUM TIOU II (built 2008; 28 passengers) – Mekong

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

SAILING VESSELS in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia may change from year to year, but those chartered generally carry about 8 to 16 passengers.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passenger Profile

Adventurous couples, singles, and families of all ages (though especially the under 40 set) mostly from North America, and a handful from the UK, Europe and other places. The ocean expedition cruises tend to attract largely couples, average age mid-50s, while the sailing tours draw mostly 30s singles.

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Generally meals are included across the board except on the small sailing yachts. For Galapagos and South America coastal cruises, snorkeling gear is part of the package, while bicycles are carried on French rivers and on the Mekong. On some itineraries guided shore excursions are also included.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Itineraries
  • Galapagos: There are mostly 7, 10 and up to 17-day cruises either round-trip from Baltra or San Cristobal islands, packaged with a 1- or 2-night hotel stay in mainland Quito, Ecuador with the longest more elaborate stays in Ecuador. Itineraries focus mostly on the Central (including Santa Cruz Santiago), Western (Isabela and Fernandina) and Southern (Floreana and Espanola) island groups, to get up close and personal with the amazing wildlife and diverse landscape. (Note: airfare between Quito and the islands is not included in the rates as it often is with other lines).
G Adventures

Estrella Del Mar in the Galapagos. * Photo- © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Europe Rivers: 6-night cruises round-trip from Dijon through France’s Burgundy region visit small villages and wineries, with excursions on foot and by bicycle.
  • India Rivers: 15-night cruises from Patna to Kolkata (Calcutta) on the Ganges River visit ancient temples, ornate palaces and sixth-century rock carvings. South, east and north coast catamaran sailing in Sri Lanka.
  • Southeast Asia Rivers: 7-night cruises (plus 2 hotel nights) on classic-style riverboats between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap go to wet and floating markets, temples (including a sunrise visit to the legendary Angkor Wat on the longer itins), stilt villages, and Vietnam war sites (such as the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace, associated with the Fall of Saigon in 1975).
  • Turkey & Croatia: 9-night super casual catamaran cruises travel between Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and between Bodrum and Fethiye, Turkey.
  • Greek Isles: 7-night super casual yacht cruises sail between Santorini and Mykonos with stops at untouristy offbeat islands in the Cyclades; maybe including Folegandros, Sifnos, Ios, Antiparos, Paros and/or Naxos.
  • Cuba: 6-night super casual catamaran cruises sail round-trip out of Havana and visit points on the Canarreos Archipelago with a focus on snorkeling, swimming and beach-bumming.
  • British Virgin Islands: 6-night catamaran cruises are round-trip from Tortola and hit all the best offbeat swimming, snorkeling and beach sites.
  • Maldives: 6-night cruises aboard a traditional dhoni (a dhow-like fishing boat) spend a week snorkeling and diving in the gorgeous waters of the Maldives islands, and its lagoons and atolls.
  • Thailand: Choose from 6 nighters round-trip from Phuket and 3-night cruises between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Indonesia Interisland catamaran cruising from Bali to nearby islands and Lombok.
Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Amazon River: 7-night cruises on the Amazon depart from Iquitos, Peru; with optional pre- or post land trips to Machu Picchu.
  • Antarctica: 10- to 22-night cruises round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina visit points throughout the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula. Longest cruises add the Falklands and South Georgia..
  • Arctic/Norwegian Fjords: 10- to 14-night cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Longyearbyen, Norway, visit ports along the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard.
  • South America: 4- to 5-week-long cruises along the west coast of South America (Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) are offered as the G EXPEDITION repositions between Antarctica and the Arctic region, with excursions to fjords, glaciers, national parks and rain forests, plus a 3-day overland trip to Machu Picchu.
No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

When to Go?

Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica late October through mid-March; Arctic late May through mid-September, SE Asia July-April, Maldives year-round, Thailand October-April, and Europe April-October.

Cabins

G EXPEDITION (Polar) is G Adventures’ owned ship for polar travel; it has five different cabin categories that range in size and layout. All have private bathrooms with showers, and a porthole or window. The two lowest categories are quads and triples with upper and lower bunk beds. All other categories have two lower beds, except for four larger suites that have a queen bed.

QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS (Galapagos) the most high-end of the company’s five Galapagos ships, has 9 luxury cabins all with windows, private bathroom and air conditioning, TV and DVD players — 7 have queen or twin beds, and 1 is a suite with a sitting area.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

YOLITA’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins have queen or twin beds, large windows, and TVs with DVD players. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

XAVIER III’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins are all double-occupancy with twin beds; 4 on the upper deck cabins with windows, and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All come with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

MONSERRAT’s (Galapagos) 10 cabins comprise 6 double-occupancy upper deck cabins with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All are equipped with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

EDEN (Galapagos) takes 16 passengers and a two wraparound decks to easily access all directions. 4 cabins are twin lowers, a double bed cabin, and  3 twin-share bunk cabins, all with private facilities and A/C.

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (Galapagos) has 8 double-occupancy cabins with bunk beds, 4 on the upper deck with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

DANIELE (France) is a canal barge with 12 lower deck cabins all with windows and private bathrooms, TV, radio, and air-conditioning.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong) has 6 upper deck cabins and 8 lower deck cabins, all with windows and en-suite bathrooms.

AMATISTA (Amazon) has 15 cabins — 7 upper deck and 8 lower deck, all with windows and private bathrooms.

VARUNA (Ganges) has 12 air-conditioned cabins, all with en suite bathrooms.

CATAMARANS/SAILING YACHTS (Cuba, BVIs, Greece, Croatia, Thailand, Maldives), the vessels may vary from year to year, but generally have 4 to 8 double cabins often (but not always) with private bathrooms.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Public Rooms & Dining

All Galapagos vessels and the polar ship G EXPEDITION have an indoor observation lounge for talks by the naturalists, plus a bar, small library, outdoor observation deck with chairs for relaxing, and indoor dining area for casual and relaxed meals. The menus where possible incorporate local ingredients, such as fish.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong River) has a main lounge with a large-screen TV for watching a limited selection of DVDs, a library, bar, and open-air dining area and indoor/outdoor lounges. DANIELE (France) has a lounge with bar, dining area, sun deck with loungers and parasols, and a hot tub.

The small catamarans and yachts in the Caribbean, Europe, Thailand and the Maldives, and the riverboat on the Amazon, all have a combination lounge and dining area indoors, plus outdoor seating for sunbathing and hanging out.

Some vessels have reliable Wi-Fi, including G EXPEDITION, but on many, connectivity is spotty.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Activities & Entertainment

In general, the entertainment is the destination and interaction with fellow passengers, sharing conversation and drinks on deck. Activities happen in port or in the water while snorkeling, diving, kayaking or zipping around in zodiacs or small skiffs. The Galapagos boats carry 2 zodiacs for expeditions and snorkeling equipment for passengers’ use (wet suits are free of charge on QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS and YOLITA only). DANIELE (France) has a hot tub, and it and the Mekong riverboat carry a handful of bicycles.

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

G Adventures, 19 Charlotte Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H5; 416-260-0999. US office: 179 South Street, 1st floor, Boston, MA 0211, 877 390 9050. Additionally in USA & Canada 1-888-8000-4100; UK 0344 272 2060; Australia 1300 853 325; New Zealand 0800 333 415. Consult the website for additional international telephone numbers.

— HMS

 

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quirky-cruise-pandaw-family-cruise-deals-in-asia-family-sitting-on-boat

By Ted Scull.

If you have one or two kids who you feel are ready for an eye-opening cruise travel experience but are hesitant because of the high cost of four fares, have a gander at this deal.

Pandaw, the pioneer in Asian river travel, is offering two-for-one-cabin deals on select 2018 and 2019 one-week adventures along the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Irrawaddy and Chindwin in Myanmar (Burma), and India’s Ganges River.

Parents pay full fare for their cabin, and one or two children between the ages of 5 and 18 travel in a second cabin for free. If you do not have two children within the age parameters, maybe your daughter or son has a friend to bring along.

Fares include daily excursions; onboard guide; local beer, spirits and soft drinks; cultural performances; and bikes to explore the countryside, nearby temples and villages.

Family cruising is a great way to introduce children to Asia. * Photo: Pandaw

Asian travel brings to life the importance of understanding what makes very different cultures tick, with some people struggling to make a better life and others already there. You as parents will be able to determine if this type of exposure is something you think your offspring, with a positive and understanding outlook, could handle and benefit from.

They may see children their age being highly creative with a musical instrument or in dance, or when you visit a village, seeing kids their age living in a house much smaller than their home or laboring at tasks that adults normally perform where you come from.

To prepare children for an Asia cruise, you might look for some videos online that would expose your kids to what they are apt to see and experience in Asia. Encourage them to understand that people can seem both different and the same, throughout the world.

Fares include daily excursions; onboard guide; local beer, spirits and soft drinks; cultural performances; and bikes to explore the countryside, nearby temples and villages.

Western and local Asian choices at meal time. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

While the cruises will offer western as well as local foods, it’s a great opportunity to expose children to the ingredients and flavors of Asia.

In port, excursions involve rides in small skiffs, walks through villages and cities, bicycling in some ports, and maybe a pick-up game of soccer or volleyball in some ports.

Fares include daily excursions; onboard guide; local beer, spirits and soft drinks; cultural performances; and bikes to explore the countryside, nearby temples and villages.

Getting to and from shore is part of the adventure. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

Most of the free-second-cabin offers conveniently take place during the summer holidays in July and August.

Per person minimum fares for the grownups start at from $1,611 USD to $1,840 USD for the Myanmar* and Cambodia/Vietnam cruises. Fares include daily excursions; onboard guide; local beer, spirits and soft drinks; cultural performances; and bikes to explore the countryside, nearby temples and villages.

*Note that Myanmar’s Chindwin river cruise begins much higher at $3,307 USD.

 

The Classic Mekong River Between Cambodia & Vietnam

 

Pandaw Family Cruise Deals in Asia

 

 

The Mandalay Pagan Packet on the Irrawaddy River

 

Pandaw Family Cruise Deals in Asia

 

 

The Chindwin River in Burma

Pandaw Family Cruise Deals in Asia

 

The Lower Ganges in India

 

Pandaw Family Cruise Deals in Asia

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Lindblad Expeditions

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Reader Review: Lindblad in Alaska's Inside Passage. REVIEWER Elizabeth Moss from the USA. CRUISE LINE Lindblad Expeditions. SHIP National Geographic ...
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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

Based in New York, Lindblad Expeditions has a long legacy dating back to Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos beginning in the mid-1960s. In the intervening years, the firm, under the leadership of his son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, has expanded its fleet and ship charters to basically blanket the world for those in search of an adventure by sea. Destinations are expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica; natural history and wildlife cruises to the Galapagos, Indonesia and Borneo; cultural and historical voyages to the British Isles, Greek Isles and Morocco, revived cruise tours to Ancient Egypt — the list goes on and on.

The joint venture with the National Geographic Society established in 2004 expanded Lindblad’s passenger base and drew on the Society’s expertise; especially its photographers who enrich the pages of National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveler.  The relationship has expanded from itineraries in the US, Australia and New Zealand to Canada and Latin America.  As a four-time passenger I have always had the strong sense that the expedition and enrichment staff genuinely want to bring you absolutely the best experience possible. The large number on every voyage makes a huge difference in having them readily at hand when ashore or in Zodiacs and providing a rich variety of expertise.

Lindblad Expeditions

The N. G ENDURANCE represents the latest in Expedition ship design. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

In January 2017, Lindblad took delivery of the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II to replace the long-serving N. G. ENDEAVOUR  in the Galapagos. Then in July 2017, a newly-built 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST became the first of two ordered ships to sail alongside the veterans N.G. SEA BIRD and N. G. SEA LION in Alaska, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and to reintroduce Belize itineraries.

The second, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, l entered service in October 2018 on the U.S. west coast. Her seasonal itineraries will be in Baja, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. US-flag ships come from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, near Seattle. Not stopping there, in mid-March 2018, Lindblad held a keel laying ceremony for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE (126 passengers) commencing construction at the Crist Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland. This Polar Class 5 rated ship is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020, and ENDURANCE recalls the name of Ernest Shackleton’s pioneering Antarctic expedition vessel.

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. ENDURANCE offers 13 two-room balcony suites. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

 

The ships vary from perhaps the best-equipped expedition ships afloat to the most nimble for poking around confined spaces, along narrow rivers and into tiny island coves. Here, we treat the ships one by one, to see what they offer and where they venture — some go all over and others stay in one region.

It is hard to beat Lindblad for its creative and professional approach to expedition cruising, so be prepared to pay for the high standards.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (148 passengers & built 1982 as the rugged Norwegian coastal passenger and roll-on, roll-off ferry liner MIDNATSOL, enlarged for the same service 1989, and rebuilt into an expedition ship in 2008).

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers come on selected expeditions and so do families; Lindblad has a fine program for children, best in the Polar Regions and Galapagos.

Passenger Decks

6. An elevator serves all decks apart from B-Deck for Internet center, Mud Room and lockers.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to the crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (NGEX) covers more territory in one calendar year than any other in the fleet. In winter, the polar regions include Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia (along with N.G. ORION); in summer the Norwegian fjords, Arctic Norway, Svalbard, Iceland (including a circumnavigation), Greenland, Canadian Arctic and Canadian Maritimes; Fall down South America’s west coast from Peru south to Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) for another Antarctic season; and closing the circle, a spring return to Europe via the Atlantic Islands, Iberia and onto the British Isles and Ireland. Watch for new itineraries. One Iceland and Greenland itinerary includes flights over the latter’s remote glaciers as well as land and sea travel.

Why Go?

The NGEX is  one of the best equipped expedition ship afloat with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as sophisticated equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for underwater exploration, hydrophone, underwater video camera, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore via Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor. On European itineraries, cultural experts and historians are aboard.

When to Go?

The ship ventures to various regions in the most suitable season such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic regions in summer.

Cabins

All cabins, of mostly moderate size (some larger suites), are outside, majority with windows, eight with portholes, and all thankfully have blackout curtains for 24-hour daylight sailings. Beds are queen-size, twins with some convertible to queens, and seven can take a third person at 50% reduction of the double occupancy rate; 13 have balconies. A nice extra is a World Atlas placed in cabins and open to the page you will be exploring. How about that for service?

Public Rooms

Main lounge (seats everyone) with bar equipped for films, slide shows and presentations; observation lounge on Bridge Deck with domed-roof and adjacent library; navigation bridge is generally open to passengers for meeting officers, learning about navigation and spotting wildlife; chart room for studying the region sailing to; fitness center, spa and sauna, Internet café.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is often another public room for the passengers.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is popular gathering place for  passengers, one of the delights of expedition cruising. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Single seating dining room forward and adjacent Bistro (same menu) has additional seating (some tables for two) in a more relaxed arrangement. Meals also offer buffet items at breakfast and lunch. The food is of good quality and well prepared, though that extra freshness may be lacking in remote regions. Lunch buffets also take place up in the domed observation lounge. Go for it; the view while eating is great!

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the excursions ashore and in Zodiacs accompanied by the expedition staff, sharing pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights — with underwater videos shot that day being shown, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the expedition staff. Unscheduled Zodiac excursions may occur when wildlife appears along the shore.

On Svalbard, for example, a polar bear may be spotted as a tiny speck on the ice, and passengers begin to gather, standing in total silence at the bow to watch the distance between the ship nosed into the pack ice and curious bear get ever shorter. I have seen polar bears walk up to the bow and sniff the smells we give off.

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during a cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen)

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during an expedition cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen) * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Orion

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia's Kimberley Coast.

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION (102 passengers & built 2003 as ORION for Australian-based Orion Cruises, acquired by Lindblad in 2013 and underwent a major refit.

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers and families come on selected voyages. Given the cruising areas, now Antarctica and the South Pacific, expect some Europeans and Australians.

Passenger Decks

5 decks with an elevator connecting all but the Expedition Deck for the Mud Room, Zodiac boarding and Doctor’s Office.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

Winter in Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia from Ushuaia, Argentina (along with N.G. EXPLORER);  in spring, the NGOR heads first to Chile then across the South Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island for cruises to Tahiti and around French Polynesia. Also, in the summer in Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea, and the Russian Arctic and Russian Far East.

Why Go?

Here is a prime example of an expedition ship that excels for its comforts, style and travel adventure. The N.G. ORION is particularly well-equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, snorkeling gear, scuba diving gear for 24 passengers (on certain itineraries), a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, underwater video cameras, video microscope, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore and in Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor.

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to the best season exploring a specific region such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter November to March, while the rest of the year most other cruising areas are in tropical waters.

Cabins

Roomy for a small ship and beautifully-designed and furnished; twin beds that convert to queens, all are outside, 19 with oval windows; 9 with balconies, some of which are small and some shared with neighbors (no partitions); flat-screen TV with DVD/CD player, mini-fridge, personal safe, Internet access for laptops, shower except 4 suites with bathtub. Third person pays 50% of double-occupancy rate in triple-bed cabins. 4 single cabins.

Public Rooms

Attractive main lounge with sit-up bar that seats all for talks and films; renovated observation lounge and library; open bridge policy makes the navigation center another well-used public room.

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Orion: Lunchtime on deck in Australia.
* Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Meals are served at one open seating in a restaurant with large-view windows; delightful outdoor café serves buffet breakfast and lunches, and barbecue dinners when the weather is warm. Food is very good and often connected to the cruising region.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the guided excursions ashore, including on foot and bicycles, and in Zodiacs, the evening pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights with a film of underwater videos shot that day, a recap of the day’s happenings, and the presentation by the expedition and the lecture staff of the plan for tomorrow. Small hot tub aft on Observation Deck. Fitness center, sauna and spa.

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

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National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

This ship replaced the long-serving NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR  in early January 2017. The replacement started life as the VIA AUSTRALIS (b. 2005 & 136 passengers), and after major refit now carries just 96 passengers. The family friendly ship will has seven sets of connecting cabins and six triples, and for solo passengers, nine single cabins.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, with some other nationalities, and as Lindblad is well-prepared to handle children, families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

If swimming with sea lions and sidestepping marine iguanas stretched out in the sun sounds intriguing, then think about a week’s small-ship adventure in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago. Even wildlife names and antics are intriguing, such as blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance by lifting one foot, bending their wings and whistling. Days are spent on the water in Zodiacs, in the water snorkeling, and on land hiking with a trained naturalist guide.

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

That requires a somewhat complex answer. The peak seasons, because of the school holidays, last from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. December through May, the water is warm for snorkeling and swimming but there will be fewer fish to see. Most days in the first months will see some rain.

The latter part of the season is spring mating time for animals and birds on land, especially sea lions and turtles, plus wild flowers in bloom. June through November brings on the colder waters of the Humboldt Current, therefore, more fish and sea birds are looking for prey, but snorkeling is going to be less comfortable and the ocean is rougher.

Cabins

56, all outside with windows or portholes on Main and A decks. Most cabins are smallish and have compact bathrooms with showers. Amenities are a small fridge and video player.

Public Rooms

Lounge with bar seats all passengers; separate library on the deck above; open bridge policy provides another room and fraternizing with the officers; spa, sauna and fitness center.

Dining

Restaurant is forward on Upper Deck with large view windows either side, and the food is of good quality with some local island ingredients, and Ecuadorian fish such as Wahoo and Dorado.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and the glass-bottom boat with guides and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera screened, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the naturalists. Small dip-in pool on Veranda Deck aft.

A newly introduced  activity is plein air drawing where a resident artist instructs passengers during regular sessions on board and shore to create images of the wildlife they see, and many are tame enough to pose for you. Look for the departure dates that include this activity.

Lindblad Expeditioins

Sea lion and pup in Galapagos Islands. National Geographic Islander in background. * Photo: David Vargas

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Naturalists that Lindblad hires are likely to be amongst the best available in a very active cruising area. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadorean.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER (48 passengers & built as the twin-hulled catamaran ISLANDER in 1995, first cruised in Scotland, and taken on by Lindblad in 2004 and renamed).

Passenger Profile

Largely Americans and some Europeans; varied ages and families at holiday periods.

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above, plus the advantage, for some, choosing a ship with half the number of passengers compared to N.G. ENDEAVOUR. Also see this ship above for “Why Go.”

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

24 outside, mostly compact cabins on three decks, all with windows. Twins may be arranged as a double or as queen beds. Two cabins can accommodate a third person. Eight cabins on the Upper Deck have glassed-in terraces.

Public Rooms

Aft lounge seats all passengers for evening recaps, lectures and films; adjacent library and Internet Café, fitness center, covered seating aft on Upper Deck, open bridge policy.

Dining

Restaurant is aft on Bridge Deck with open seating for all to dine at one time. Food is average to good with some tasty Ecuadorian specialties.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and glass-bottom boat with guides, and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera shown, a look back at the recent happenings, and a plan for tomorrow by the naturalists. See additional Activities under the N.G. ENDEAVOUR.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadoran.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  QUEST  (built in 2017 and 100 passengers); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE followed in 2018.

Passenger Profile

Varies depending on the itinerary but mostly Americans, and some Europeans and Australians. Family during the school holidays, attracted by special programs and connecting cabins.

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

All sightseeing excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking, snorkeling gear, wet suits, non-alcoholic drinks..

Itineraries

The NG QUEST expedition ship offers many options, depending on the season and in brief they are: Alaska and Inside Passage (along B. C. coast at the beginning & end of season); Columbia and Snake rivers; Channel Islands off California; Baja California; along the Costa Rican coast and islands and Panama, including a canal transit; and Belize for the reefs, rivers and Mayan ruins.

NG VENTURE covers Alaska and B. C. coast; San Juan Islands; Channel Islands off California; and a long stint in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

The NG QUEST, completed in 2017, and NG VENTURE in 2018 have many of the latest features for an expedition vessel and a wide variety of destinations.

When to Go?

The itineraries are geared to the best season for visiting  the destinations.

Cabins

50 outside cabins(136 to 185 sq.ft., and 22 of these with step-out balconies). 6 cabins connect providing side-by-side accommodations for families.

Public Rooms

Large lounge for gathering before meals, including the day’s recap, lectures and videos, and leads out to a viewing platform; dining room aft with windows on three sides; gym and spa; open and partly covered sun deck; and open bridge policy, in effect providing another public room.

Dining

All dining is at one open seating, and the menus will reflect the wide-ranging itineraries.

Activities & Entertainment

While the so-called entertainment category includes presentations by the expedition staff before and after dinner and time at sea; the activities ashore will vary according to the specific itinerary; equipment available includes 10-12 passenger landing craft embarked from two landing platforms and 24 sea kayaks and a fleet of paddelboats; remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for exploring the sea beneath the ship and bringing back images; bow camera, underwater camera, hydrophone for collecting sounds that sea creatures make, video microscope, kayaks, wet suits and snorkeling equipment.

Special Notes

This pair was built by Nichols Brothers, Whidbey Island, Washington, the same yard that completed the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD. They fly the US flag hence they can sail on domestic itineraries without having to call at a foreign port, although the pair does venture south to Mexico and Central America.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD (62 passengers & built 1981, later upgraded and reduction in passenger capacity by eliminating lowest-deck cabins.

Most recently with the arrival of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST and NG VENTURE the old pair were further refitted with newly redecorated interiors for the lounge and bar, dining room and cabins. They carry sea kayaks, a fleet of paddleboats, video microscope, hydrophone and bow camera.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, generally 50+ and few families on the Columbia-Snake itineraries, and more likely on the other trips, especially during school holidays.

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

$$ Expensive but less pricey than the two new US flag vessels.

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries
  • Southeast Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka.
  • One-way positioning cruises early May and early September between Seattle via the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast, calling at Haida Gwaii (island) and into Southeast Alaska.
  • Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coast of Baja California for serious whale watching. In the height of whale watching season — gray and hopefully sperm, blue and fin whales in the lagoons along the Pacific Coast, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Channel Islands and Santa Catalina from Los Angeles for the beach life, hiking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and meditation sessions.

Intense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted ScullIntense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

Every itinerary has its numerous attractions. Alaska: glaciers, fjords, wildlife on land and sea and with the grandeur of Glacier Bay National the highlight, especially enjoyed on such a small ship; Baja California on both coasts for the varieties of birds; snorkeling among sea lions; coastal and island hikes.

Both vessels are about as simple as any small ships get, a bit pokey, past their prime, yet well maintained with excellent expedition staffs. So forget any thought of luxury and go for the wonderful experience. The Columbia-Snake rivers route was my first soft-adventure by ship – the Sea Lion, some 30 years ago.

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The two ships are positioned where the weather is best for expedition and soft adventure activities, so there are no cautions needed.

Cabins

Small and all outside with view windows, some twins may be converted to a double bed, and a few can take a third person at 50% of the double occupancy rate. Cabins on Bridge and Upper decks open onto a side promenade, while Main Deck cabins are accessed from a central corridor. These latter six cabins are also adjacent to the dining room, therefore a convenient, but also trafficked corridor.

Public Rooms

A single forward observation lounge with a bar; forward outdoor open observation deck and partly covered Bridge Deck. Spa and exercise equipment.

Dining

Food is good with buffet at breakfast, family-style service at lunch and served dinners.

Activities & Entertainment

Evening recaps of the day; plans for the day ahead and talks (some illustrated) by the naturalist staff using results of underwater video and video microscope. Depending on the itinerary, kayaking, snorkeling (with wet suits in Baja), and expedition landing craft for going ashore on hikes.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard on in Baja and Costa Rica/Panama and an undersea specialist in Alaska and Baja.

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And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

Sea Cloud
SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lindblad charters the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD ($$$), a legendary sailing vessel built in Germany as a private yacht in 1931 and converted to a cruise vessel in 1979. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to sail in her —  in the Mediterranean, the Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens); along the Greek and Dalmatian coasts between Piraeus (Athens) and Dubrovnik; and Sicily and Malta.

The best, and the most expensive cabins, are the beautifully furnished eight originals on Main Deck when the Sea Cloud was E.F. Hutton’s private yacht built for his wife, Marjorie Meriweather Post (cereal heiress). The added cabins are modern, very attractively fitted and considerably less expensive, though not cheap. The main lounge is beautifully paneled and with parquet floors. Food and service are great, and some meals are taken out on deck. The Caribbean offers just the occasional one-week cruise from Barbados in winter.

Delfin II

Lindblad has chartered the Amazon riverboat DEFLIN II ($$$) since 2010 taking 28 passengers in 14 luxurious cabins on one-week cruises along two of the river’s upper tributaries. The riverboat has an enclosed lounge, an open lounge and bar under a top deck canopy. The dining saloon is the deck below with big windows facing aft, and the food is quite special and sometimes exotically sourced from the rain forest.

The cabins, with a desk and chair, are lovely with wood trim, wooden floors, large view windows, twin beds that can form kings; and two suites have king-size beds only. Some can be interconnected for families, and four face forward with terrific views. Bathrooms are roomy. Excursions ashore are made in 10-person skiffs and kayaks, plus some walking where paths exist.

A national reserve in remote Amazonia is the highlight, looking out for exotic bird species, monkeys and anacondas of the rain forest, and pink and gray dolphins, piranhas and red-eyed caiman in the dark waters, sometimes decorated with giant water lilies. Cruises operate year-round except April and September.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

The more than comfortable 48-passenger riverboat JAHAN ($$$) cruises the Mekong between Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia and My Tho (near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) on 15-day cruise-tours from January to March. The famous temple complex, Cambodia’s capital at Phnom Penh, and the teeming life along the river are the highlights.

Harmon V  (Note: This ship is not currently operating.)

This chartered 46-passenger ship, with stabilizers, will take 46 passengers in all outside cabins with windows on 11-day cruise tours beginning in December and running through March. Days 1-3 are spent in Havana then 4-11 on board the ship calling at the colonial cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, located on Cuba’s south coast, Islas de la Juventud and the Bay of Pigs where a failed U.S. invasion took place in 1961.

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

Lindblad’s building its first ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, a 126-passenger ship with the distinctive X-BOW to provide fuel efficiency and significantly improve passenger comfort in rough seas. Delivery for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE is planned for early 2020.

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Scottish 48-passenger, 4-deck vessel with 52 outside cabins makes 9-day canal, loch and island itineraries in June, July and August between Kyle of Lochalsh (across from the Isle of Skye) and Inverness. The route calls for stops on Skye, Eigg or Rhum, Iona, Oban, Loch Linnhe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Neptune’s Steps (flight of locks) in the Caledonian Canal, then passing through Loch Ness to Inverness, thus having crossed the Scottish mainland to just short of the North Sea.

Note: For a fuller account of the ship and its itinerary, go to the ship’s owner, Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Oberoi Philae

The newly-rebuilt Nile riverboat with enlarged accommodations for 42 in 22 cabins and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, including four suites, has two restaurants with one on the Sun Deck, and several lounges. 13-day cruise tours will operate between January and March and September to December.

The land portion begins in Cairo for the museum, Coptic churches in Old Cairo and Ben Ezra synagogue before flying south to Luxor and boarding the 6-day cruise that give access to the temple at Luxor and Karnak, a felucca sail, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the island temple at Philae on the far side of the Aswan High Dam. After visiting the temple at Abu Simbel, fly back to Cairo to stay at the Mena House (the original and now much enlarged hotel adjacent to the Pyramids at Giza), plus step pyramid at Saqqara. A five-day extension is available to Jordan.

Contact

Lindblad Expeditions, 96 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014; 800-397-3348 or 212-265-3770.

TWS

 

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Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

By Anne Kalosh.

Gourmet meals, plush cabins and curated experiences beckon travelers to a new selection of Mekong River cruises by Minor Hotels, an international hotel group. Mekong Kingdoms cruises are replete with the colonial romance of river travel but with a modern twist.

Cruising the Mekong from Thailand’s Golden Triangle to the ancient Laos capital and now UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang conjures up images of old Indochina, of languorous days gone by, teeming with adventure, mystical temples and stunning scenery.

Laos Mekong River Cruises

The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos & Myanmar converge.

2- & 3-Night Mekong River Cruises

Travelers can embark Mekong Kingdoms’ flagship BOHEME, a 42-meter/138-foot, 13-cabin luxury barge, at Luang Prabang or Chiang Rai/Chiang Khong in Thailand, located near Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort. Decorated with intricate Indochinese-inspired artwork and fitted with sumptuously comfortable furnishings, BOHEME offers facilities like an expansive sun deck, a wine cellar and a spa.

Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

Boheme offers an expansive sun deck, a wine cellar and a spa. * Photo: Mekong Kingdoms

The journey from Chiang Rai/Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang lasts two nights, heading downstream, or three nights going upstream.

Excursions include guided jungle treks and a visit to the Pak Ou caves, with their dramatic karsts and thousands of Buddhas left by pilgrims over the centuries. Travelers can visit the Hmong Village at Pak Beng or learn traditional weaving at Ban Baw and further explore rural Laos by mountain biking in the village of Ban Houy Phalam.

Activities aboard BOHEME include sunrise yoga, Buddhist meditation, sunset cocktails, cooking demonstrations, jewelry-making classes and fishing for giant catfish.

For an even more intimate experience, Mekong Kingdoms offers GYPSY, a two-cabin cruiser ideal for one or more nights for up to four people, with the itinerary and program customized to suit the travelers.

Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

Gypsy is a two-cabin cruiser for up to four people. * Photo: Mekong Kingdoms

Day Tripping

For shorter day trips in complete privacy, NOMAD provides couples an exclusive romantic getaway for sunset cruises in Luang Prabang.

And for private events or family adventure, the floating lounge PLAY is ideal. Suitable for up to 15 passengers, it offers a sun deck, private room and a sound system. MONSOON, meanwhile, is a scheduled luxury touring shuttle to the Pak Ou caves that serves canapés, coffee, tea and soft drinks.

For info go to mekongkingdoms.com.

Short Laos Mekong River Cruises

Big river views from the bar aboard the day-cruiser Play. * Photo: Mekong Kingdoms

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.